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Warren Schmidt is about to experience a bittersweet slice of life. Newly retired, he and his wife Helen have big plans to see America-but an unexpected twist changes everything. Now Schmidt is determined to stop his daughter's wedding to an underachieving waterbed salesman. From meeting the groom's eccentric parents to sponsoring a Tanzanian foster child, Schmidt sets off on his mission...and gets lost along the road to self-discovery.

Alexander Payne
Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, Kathy Bates, Howard Hessman
Writing Credits:
Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Louis Begley

Schmidt Happens
Box Office:
Budget $30 million.
Opening weekend $282,367 on 6 screens.
Domestic gross $65.010 million.
Rated R for some language and brief nudity.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Surround
English, Spanish

Runtime: 124 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 6/3/2003

• 9 Deleted Scenes
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• DVD-ROM Content

Score soundtrack
Search Titles:

TV - Mitsubishi CS-32310 32"; Subwoofer - JBL PB12; DVD Player - Toshiba SD-4700; Receiver - Sony STR-DE845; Center - Polk Audio CS175i; Front Channels - Polk Audio; Rear Channels - Polk Audio.


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About Schmidt (2002)

Reviewed by David Williams (June 2, 2003)

Sometimes, it seems that cinema these days relies as heavily on CGI and big-budget effects as it does a simple, well-crafted story. Thankfully, there are still a few directors out there who realize that you can take quirky story, find the perfectly suited actor (or troupe of actors), and just run with it. And while the project at hand didn’t cost $200 million to make and failed to bring home the box office take of something like The Matrix: Reloaded, it doesn’t make it any less appreciated by those of us who aren’t easily dumbfounded or fooled by the laziness behind some of the “larger and louder” pictures out there available for consumption. Sometimes, there’s nothing more thrilling than seeing one of the greatest actors of his generation play a great part in a great story that was seemingly tailor made for him … special effects and big budgets be dammed.

About Schmidt introduces us to retiring Omaha insurance salesman Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) on the day of his retirement. He’s sitting in his sterile office in “downtown” Omaha with his career summed up inside of a few cardboard boxes laying on his now empty desk. His watches the clock on the wall tick down to exactly 5PM before he allows himself to walk away from the job that has consumed the vast majority of his life and defined him as a man.

Life after insurance proves to be harder than expected, as Schmidt finds himself looking for reasons to go back and visit the office and do anything he can to get away from his haughty and overbearing wife (June Squibb) of many years. However, while watching TV one day, he runs across one of those “Feed The Children” commercials that we all know and love and decides that some of his retirement money - that he worked so hard to save - would be better served by adopting a young child in Tanzania for $22 a month. Warren sends off his initial payment and patiently waits to hear back from the organization.

Eventually, Warren receives his introductory packet from the agency introducing him to Ndugu – his adopted African child – and it’s through the packet that he learns that the children often enjoy letters from their American sponsors. This letter writing becomes the vehicle through which much of About Schmidt is told and when Warren first writes (and narrates) the words “Dear Ndugu …”, we see that behind this shell of a man – a man who has been leading a quiet life of sheer desperation - there is someone filled with a lot of rage about his lot in life and for some reason, he has no problems confiding those feelings to Ndugu. Forget the fact that a young, starving African child more than likely has no idea what life is like for a white, retired, middle-class, American male … the readings that Nicholson gives these moments is simply classic. However, behind the comedy is a genuine sense of sadness about Schmidt’s façade and his inability to express his unhappiness to anyone other than a needy child he is sponsoring in Africa.

Schmidt’s life changes in a moment, as he comes home one afternoon and finds his wife lying in the floor and dead of a massive heart attack and even though his entire life has been wrapped up in his work – and his family – Schmidt now finds himself with a form of freedom he didn’t even know existed. Without his bossy wife around, he can now pee standing up – he can speak without being interrupted – he can eat whatever he wants – he doesn’t have to clean up after himself … in a nutshell, he can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants and it’s this late-in-life reawakening that’s the emotional center of About Schmidt.

After his wife’s funeral, Warren makes a troubling discovery about a past fling his wife had with one of his best friends and it’s then and there that Warren decides to hop in to an RV he purchased for his wife (who thought it would be fun to have during their retirement years) on a road trip towards Denver. Seeing his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) at the funeral only reinforced the fact that the waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney) she has picked out for a husband is not one of the best candidates for matrimony and he wants to tell her his feelings about it in person. Along the way, Warren stops at his old childhood home (now a tire store); his former college fraternity; and he even meets an interesting couple at a roadside RV park … and at each stop, he rediscovers a little bit more about himself. However, it’s not until he reaches Denver that everything comes undone, as he spends time with Randall’s family – namely, his mother and Jeannie’s soon to be mother-in-law, Roberta (Kathy Bates) – and he realizes that the extended family is even more motley than he imagined.

About Schmidt comes from the middle-American mindset of director and co-writer Alexander Payne, whose other films include gems like Election and Citizen Ruth. He has an uncanny knack for making movies that are chock full of people you know – people you run across in your daily routines and journeys – people simply striving to be average in a world that’s simply too busy and self-absorbed to even notice them. It’s not that Payne despises these people or even looks down on them, he’s merely portraying a harsh fact of life – the fact that many people strive all their lives to end up feeling unfulfilled, unrewarded, and as insignificant as a single grain of sand on the beach.

Although About Schmidt is a film about unremarkable people, Payne manages to make it a remarkable film and one that shouldn’t be missed. Many of us simply don’t realize what we’re made of until we’re taken down so far that we’ve got nowhere to go but up and watching Warren Schmidt put himself back together again is an incredible ride. Highly recommended.

The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio B+ / Bonus C+

Once again, New Line proves why they lead the pack when it comes to good-looking DVD transfers for their films. Presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with anamorphic widescreen treatment, About Schmidt looks grandiose and shows that New Line is still at the top of their game.

The film, by its very nature, contains a lot of drab and downcast hues that add to the tone of the story and the DVD is able to accurately reflect these tones perfectly. Simply put, About Schmidt is a gray picture about gray people looking for meaning in their gray lives … it’s plain, it’s simple, and it’s meant to be that way. New Line’s gorgeous transfer accentuates that fact and allows the image to remain consistently detailed and razor-sharp throughout.

Being such a recent release from a major studio (with a couple of big name stars to boot), the master print seems to be in immaculate condition and there are little in the way of flaws to distract us from the film itself. Colors were intentionally subdued and soft and there wasn’t any sort of bleeding, smearing, or oversaturation noted at any time. Black levels were consistently deep and solid, without any breakup or murkiness and it allowed for excellent shadow detail and delineation throughout. Fleshtones were bland and pasty and fell right in line with the other soft hues found in the picture.

Flaws were minimal, as I noted a slight bit of grain and shimmer in the transfer, as well as a tiny amount of edge enhancement. Other than that however, About Schmidt was as close to perfect as they come. Ultimately, About Schmidt was a fine looking presentation and quite enjoyable from beginning to end. Kudos to New Line for another pristine transfer.

New Line has given About Schmidt dueling Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio transfers that fit the material at hand quite well. While not very bombastic, the audio is given an open and expansive soundstage to work in. However, much like the picture itself, the overall aural experience is meant to be subdued and placid, with dialogue making up the majority of the mix.

The differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks were miniscule, although the DTS track was seemingly a bit more rich and full … especially during moments featuring the melancholic score. Although there weren’t a whole lot of effects or impressive surround-heavy moments featured in the film, the DTS track seemed to be a bit more robust than its Dolby counterpart. There where definitely no major differences between the two and if you can only decode the Dolby signal, you won’t be missing much.

As stated earlier, dialogue was the main attraction in the track and it was delicately balanced and clear throughout the film. There was never any harshness or edginess detected at any time, as About Schmidt was consistently comprehensible and intelligible. Surround usage was somewhat limited and while there were some fragile moments of ambience created in the film, it wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about and you’ve heard much better in other New Line films to be sure. However, it’s hard to fault New Line, as they did the best with the material they were given and my comments shouldn’t be construed into the track sounding bad. The LFE chimed in from time to time to support the effects and the score heard in About Schmidt, but it was a far cry from forceful and insistent. While the track wasn’t the best in New Line’s stable, as I said before, it fit the material well.

New Line has also included a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track in English, English and Spanish subtitles, and English Closed Captions.

New Line doesn’t give About Schmidt too much in the way of supplements and fans of the film will probably find themselves wanting a bit more. I find myself hard pressed to say that folks will enjoy the quantity of what’s included, but it’s all we’re gonna get so we might as well enjoy it.

First off, we find nine Deleted Scenes that are in “rough” form, but presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1. Each scene also includes a text-based introduction from director Alexander Payne. Scenes included are “Scene 17” (3:51), “Scene 22” (1:54), “Scenes 34-37” (1:34), “Scenes 68-71” (5:15), “Scenes 88-93” (3:47), “Scene 103” (2:06), “Scenes 110-113” (5:12), “Scene 152” (2:51), and “Scene 161” (2:51). (The text-based introductions account for about 40 to 50 seconds on average of the total running time.) The included scenes were all top-notch and as amusing to watch as what actually made the cut in About Schmidt. Payne’s text-based explanations about the scene – as well as why he felt it needed to be cut – are quite interesting, enlightening, and amusing and ultimately, these scenes were a great addition to the DVD. (After reading Payne’s introductions to the scenes, it really made me wish he could have provided a feature length commentary for the film.) In order to help us see where the scene was supposed to run in the actual film, Payne has included a few seconds of the footage that made the film before and after the deleted footage. Unfortunately, New Line has not included a –PLAY ALL- selection for the scenes.

Woodmen Tower Sequences are next and here, we get five different versions of footage shot of the Woodmen Tower (the actual corporate offices of the “Woodmen of the World” insurance company) used in the film. With a text introduction given by Payne on the extra, we learn that he wanted a lot of footage shot of the Woodmen Tower to be used in the opening scroll (as is Xanadu in the opening sequence of “Citizen Kane” he states) and he got back so much footage, he decided to let some of his assistants and editing room crew members run wild in creating their own opening to help them hone their editing skills. What we have here are the finished products for our consumption. Nothing great, but slightly interesting nonetheless.

Finishing off the disc is the film’s Theatrical Trailer, as well as Trailers for other New Line films, I Am Sam and Unconditional Love.

About Schmidt admittedly doesn’t contain a great selection of supplements to go along with the film, but this is one of those times where extras and the like don’t matter, as the film is reason enough to take the plunge. That being said, New Line’s top-notch audio and video transfers definitely make the lack of addendums easier to swallow. As I said before, About Schmidt comes highly, highly recommended.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2755 Stars Number of Votes: 98
4 3:
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