Tuesday, November 18, 2003

About Schmidt (2002)

Warren Schmidt, the titular protagonist of About Schmidt, is an uncertain and remote man. So it goes with his film, a curious attempt at human drama by Alexander Payne. Problem is that Payne hasn't quite purged the black-hearted satirist within, which results in a film that never quite figures out what it's supposed to be. At times there are scenes that poignantly portray the wasted life of Schmidt (the final shot is wrenching), but those scenes are jostling uncomfortably close with scenes where we're asked to join in the humiliation of Schmidt (the whole superfluous scene with the family in the RV is the worst offender and should have been cut). And the supporting characters are sketchy and ridiculous -- whether this is by design or intentional, I'm not sure, but in at least one instance (Randall) somebody should have had the good sense to inject a human dimension into the character. (I mean, I know Randall's supposed to be a loser and all, but there's a scene where Schmidt is studying the pictures on Randall's wall, and there's a bunch of prize ribbons that are all for participation. A little subtlety, please?) Jack's great, of course, and he's matched by Kathy Bates (as with everything she's in, she's the best thing the movie has going for it), but they're let down by a film that doesn't know whether it wants to hug or punch its characters.

Grade: C


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