2002 Certificate: 15


Jack Nicholson is at his curmudgeonly best as Warren Schmidt, an old duffer who, struggling to come to terms with retirement, goes on a cross-country mission to stop his estranged daughter (Hope Davis) from marrying her dimwit beau (Dermot Mulroney). Following his brilliant Sideways, writer-director Alexander Payne continues his examination of the male mid-to-late life crisis with another heady blend of dry wit and bittersweet drama. Kathy Bates provides fruity undertones as the groom's skinny-dipping mother.


  • Alexander Payne


  • Jack Nicholson

  • Kathy Bates

  • Dermot Mulroney

  • Hope Davis


With resoundingly successful lead roles in As Good As It Gets and the criminally overlooked The Pledge, Nicholson appears to relish acting his age.

The matinee idol looks - with a menacing edge - have slowly grown into a haggard world-weariness perfectly suited to playing the put-upon.

Schmidt sees himself as one of life's underachievers and when he retires as assistant Vice President of Woodmen Insurance he slips into a void of unchallenging domesticity.

However, when his wife of 42 years dies just as they were about to head off in their motor home for a trip around the country, he's forced to look at life anew.

A quick calculation of the variables that served him so well as an insurance broker tells him he has nine years left (unless he re-marries).

So setting out on a journey of self-discovery behind the wheel of the Winnebago Adventurer, he tours the key places in his Nebraska childhood.

Along the way he learns that Red Indians - or Native Americans "as they prefer to be called now" - had a "raw deal".

Schmidt also runs into a sort of American Alan Partridge in a trailer park, who refers to life in the motor home in nautical terms as if he was aboard a Spanish galleon.

His ultimate destination is Denver, where he hopes to bridge the gulf between himself and his emotionally distant daughter Jeannie (Davis).

She's getting married to Randall (Mulroney), a profoundly mediocre waterbed salesmen who tries to sell him a pyramid selling scheme on the day of his wife's funeral.

Nicholson's Schmidt is a wonderful creation - an outwardly deferential man who secretly harbours violent loathings, which he never airs.

The only time the things unsaid come out is in his letters to six-year-old Tanzanian orphan Ndugu, who he sponsors for £15 a week.

This all-to-rare American satire is the work of writers Payne and Jim Taylor, whose Election was such a breath of fresh air a while back.

There's a rich gallery of comic creations to enjoy here - check out the hippie-household-from-hell run by the "orgasmic" Kathy Bates.

But it is the final pay-off, beautifully underplayed by Nicholson that validates Schmidt's life and packs a glorious emotional punch.

Tim Evans