Movie Project #7: About Schmidt [2002]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

About Schmidt [2002]

About Schmidt [2002]
Director: Alexander Payne
Writers: Jim Taylor, Alexander Payne
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, Kathy Bates
Running Time: 125 minutes

Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) is a man who has lost everything. At the age of 67, he has retired from his long-held position as an actuary at a prominent Omaha insurance company. Without work in his life, he has too much free time and doesn’t know what to do with it all. He starts to notice little things about his wife (June Squibb) of 42 years that bug him now more than ever — her incessant need to collect ceramic figurines, in particular, really gets under his skin. When he comes home to find her lying face down in the kitchen, dead, he seems oddly calm about it (at least on the outside).

Schmidt is also in the process of losing his daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis), who is engaged to be married to a waterbed salesman named Randall (Dermot Mulroney). Warren rarely sees her as it is (she lives several hours away in Denver, Colorado), and now he’s worried he will never get to spend any time with her. It’s as if everything is slipping through his grasp all at once.

About Schmidt [2002]

When his daughter turns down his idea of visiting weeks before her wedding, Warren decides to take a road trip in his newly-purchased RV instead. He visits places from his childhood, all within the Midwest, only to find that everything is different. With all of this change in his life, Schmidt’s only form of solace is writing letters to a 6-year-old Tanzanian boy whom he sponsors via the Plan USA foster program. Amusingly, Warren writes these letters as if he were speaking to an adult. In essence, they are a form of therapy for him. He rambles on about many different subjects, basically jotting down whatever thoughts are flowing through his head. These moments give us glimpses into his mindset, humanizing what on the outside appears to be just a grumpy old bastard.

It’s perfect then that Jack Nicholson breathes life into this emotionally-barren character. This isn’t the type of performance we would expect from Jack; he is not loud or wildly animated. In fact, he is rather subdued and he plays Warren with a certain amount of sadness. Schmidt is the perfect encapsulation of the company man, someone who has devoted their whole life to work when he is simply just a cog in the machine. When he retires, someone takes his place and things move on as if nothing changed. It’s depressing, really, but that’s how things go.

About Schmidt [2002]

Warren’s interactions with those he meets on his journey (and later, in Denver) are priceless. He befriends a married couple at an RV park, but that leads to disastrous results when he picks up the wrong kind of signal from the wife. When he arrives in Denver, he struggles to bond with the new in-laws. Randall’s mother, Roberta (Kathy Bates), is the exact opposite of Schmidt. Her freewheeling attitude and extroverted behavior makes him very uncomfortable, though at the same time it seems to bring him ever so slightly out of his shell.

There is humor in the film — mostly in the form of the eccentric people we meet along the way — but it would be erroneous to label this as strictly a comedy. Although Warren is a flawed man, by the end of the film we finally learn more about who he really is. About Schmidt proves that self-discovery is possible at any age, and it shows just how much fun (and emotional) this journey can be.

8/10

Cult Movie Review: The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]
Director: Roger Corman
Genre: Drama
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern
Runtime: 85 minutes

After reading Jack Deth’s great post on Roger Corman over at Front Room Cinema, I was inspired to see one of the legendary director’s films. There was one in particular that stood out to me: The Trip, a 1967 feature written by Jack Nicholson. As luck would have it, the film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

As the title would suggest, The Trip is all about LSD. Filmed in “psychedelic color”, the movie stars Peter Fonda as Paul Groves, a young television commercial director who is heartbroken over the divorce proceedings with his adulterous wife. Looking for some sort of guidance with his life, Paul decides to embark on his first acid trip with the help of his friend John (Bruce Dern), an experienced advocate of psychedelics.

The Trip [1967]

From this point on, we follow Paul as he fades in and out of reality, essentially joining him on this trip. He sees all sorts of things, some real, some not. Kaleidoscopic colors, dwarves, strobe lights, naked dancers, druids, police.

Paul meanders aimlessly through these visuals and starts to freak himself out. In a fit of terror, he escapes the house (and his ‘sitter’) and wanders off to the city. This is when the movie really shines, as now we get to see how Paul interacts with others. A conversation with a not-so-classy lady at the laundromat is freakin’ hilarious and is the highlight of the movie. The lady suspects something is off with Paul as he plays around with the washing machines, but she appreciates the attention regardless.

The Trip [1967]

The movie culminates with Paul returning to where he came, this time running into a young Dennis Hopper, whose character also acts as a sort of guide for our acid-ingesting friend.

The Trip is a relic of its time, a fascinating snapshot of the Summer of Love and its free-spirited hippies. It has been said that Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all took acid together in order to prepare for the film. Even Roger Corman dropped acid for the first time so he had a better idea of how to direct this film. Perhaps most amazing is that Bruce Dern, not a fan of drug culture whatsoever, was able to play an acid guide so effectively. He is the voice of reason throughout the film, a way to keep Paul in check and make sure he has a good time.

Obviously, this isn’t a movie that everyone will enjoy. The first half of the film drags along as Paul doesn’t do too terribly much, but it becomes wildly entertaining once he hits the city. It certainly helps to have an interest in the late 60s counterculture period and/or psychedelics in general to fully appreciate this. Music buffs will get a kick out of The Electric Flag’s groovy soundtrack as well.

7/10