About Schmidt Alexander Payne

About Schmidt Alexander Payne
Midway through About Schmidt, the latest film from hip writer-director Alexander Payne, Jack Nicholson's character Warren Schmidt meets a character played by Harry Groener (who played the polite big bad Mayor on Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The scene is filled with uneasy electricity because of their previous work — Jack is totally going to kick the Mayor's ass! But nothing happens. After all, this movie is about restraint. Unlike Payne's insta-classic Election, he isn't going for satire but humanism, zooming in on the life of a recently retired insurance salesman and "sad, sad man." Nicholson's Schmidt suffers tragedy, makes uncomfortable personal revelations and goes on a road-trip of self-discovery, on the way to talking his daughter out of marrying a waterbed sales dude with a mullet (Dermot Mulroney). And it all happens at a molasses-slow pace. While that gives you time to soak in his precise Midwestern detailing, one is left with hardly enough story to hang this character study on. Luckily, Nicholson is, even in down-tempo mode, charismatic enough to carry the film (with a little help from Kathy Bates as a sexed-up hippie). Payne also comes up with an ingenious replacement for narration by having Schmidt write bitter, myopic letters to Ndugu, an African child he began sponsoring after being moved to tears by an infomercial. It both provides humour and insight into Schmidt's internal life, as well as an opportunity for thematic closure. But since Schmidt's melodrama has been so minute, it almost seems beside the point. About Schmidt is good, but from Nicholson and Payne, it's not as good as it gets. And despite Nicholson and Bates's Oscar nods, the DVD is surprisingly sparse, offering no commentary from anyone. It does however include a half-hour of deleted scenes, which were thankfully cut out, and some alternate openings edited by the assistant directors. Extras: nine deleted scenes with notes; theatrical trailer; alternate opening sequences. (Alliance Atlantis)