2002 Running time: 125 Certificate: 15 Rating: 4

Synopsis

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.

Director

  • Alexander Payne

Cast

  • Jack Nicholson

  • Kathy Bates

  • Dermot Mulroney

  • Hope Davis

Review

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

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