Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Kathy Bates
As part of the American dream, we are conditioned to work and earn money in order to have a good retirement and live the rest of our lives in peace. Working gives us this purpose and fuel to help us get out of bed each morning, but the idea of purpose upon retirement doesn’t get the same level of discussion. About Schmidt attempts to tackle what life after retirement without guidance can be with the always fantastic Jack Nicholson.
After many years of working, Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) finally retires after many years of applying his trade for an insurance company. Upon his retirement, Schmidt finally gets the chance to rest but finds life to be rather empty, which prompts him to reflect on the relationships in his life and what he has actually accomplished. In order to find some purpose, he decides to sponsor a child in Tanzania, who becomes a source of venting for the recent retiree. This along with a daughter about to marry a man he does not approve of gives Schmidt the opportunity to mend relationships.
One of the biggest jokes of life comes from having the energy for adventures when young but not having the funds to support it and when older the money being aplenty but our bodies have lost their power. About Schmidt excels when looking at what retirement looks like for someone that invested all of their time in their work and not the people around them. This point formulates in the very beginning of the narrative immediately after Schmidt retires. He goes back to his former place of employment to see if he could provide any guidance to the person replacing him only to see that they don’t need his help and all of the files he accrued were being disposed. A man so dedicated to a company and once the man leaves, everything he contributed no longer means much. What was the purpose of doing all of that work whee he left no impact? Schmidt receives that rude awakening and allows him to reflect on his lack of accomplishments in life.
Even as a curmudgeon, Jack Nicholson can still turn out a good performance. As he portrays Schmidt, he goes with the motions as he needs to navigate a character trying to figure life out again. Wisdom typically comes with age, but he needs guidance to figure out what all of the previous years meant to him and the people around him. Nicholson conveys that confusion and yearning for answers as he looks ahead to a life with no one around him.
Alexander Payne knows how to capture the Midwest of the United States. He knows the people and what they value and while I don’t think this film reaches the same level of Nebraska or Election, this film does show the value of relationships between family members. Schmidt gets the opportunity to reflect on how he has treated others and how things just cannot be switched when convenient for him. He sees that when he discovers that his wife had an affair and his daughter plans to marry someone he does not approve of. When not involved in their lives, Schmidt cannot suddenly interject, as if he has been a contributing figure to the entire time. Schmidt always remained passive with them and they decided that they wanted more with their lives and not for Schmidt to wake up and realize their presence.
The film does have its pacing issues as it tends to meander at certain points of the story, but it also reflects exactly Schmidt has reached in life. Nothing really equals the fast-paced world of the workforce. It makes those hours typically held in the office needing to be filled through other means of production. Retirement slows down life and further exaggerates what seems to be important in life. Schmidt lived a life without caring much for what now encompasses his whole world.