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About Schmidt (2002)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

About Schmidt (2002)

In director Alexander Payne's existential character study and nihilistic black comedy - it told about a retired, recent widower seeking to find meaning:

  • 66 year-old Warren Schmidt (Oscar-nominated Jack Nicholson) was introduced as a reluctant, about-to-retire Omaha, Nebraska insurance actuary who viewed his entire life as disappointing
  • in the opening shot, Schmidt was in his barren, packed-up Woodmen of the World Insurance office stoically waiting on his last day for 5 PM to approach on the wall clock; when the second hand hit the top of the hour, he stood up, took one last glance around, grabbed his briefcase and coat, and shut out the lights as he exited
  • in the rain, he drove to a subdued, farewell retirement party at Johnny's Cafe (a steakhouse) with his homely and overweight wife Helen (June Squibb) after 42 years of marriage, where his younger replacement Gary Nordin (Matt Winston) praised him, followed by his slightly inebriated best friend and elderly co-worker Ray Nichols (Len Cariou) offering an embarrassing tribute to him: ("None of these superficialities mean a goddamn thing"); Ray concluded by congratulating Warren on a meaningful and productive job well done - he could now respectfully "retire in glory and enjoy riches far beyond the monetary kind"
  • on a visit back to his office to offer assistance to his younger replacement worker Gary Nordin, he was politely and courteously disregarded; leaving the office, he noticed his boxes of files in a dumpster area ready for disposal
  • at home, after seeing a TV advertisement for Plan USA, a Third World foster-child program in Africa asking for sponsorships, he received an enrollment packet in the mail; impulsively, he decided to enroll, and soon was engaging in correspondence with his Third World "Childreach" adoptee (delivered in voice-over soliloquies "Dear Ndugu...") - his selected foster child was a young, uncomprehending Tanzanian six year-old orphan named Ndugu Umbo
Tanzanian Foster Child Outreach Program
  • in his first letter, he wrote about his rambling feelings about his entire life, beginning with her earlier hopes and dreams, and musing about his lack of accomplishments: ("...When I was a kid, I used to think that maybe I was special, that somehow Destiny would tap me to be a great man..."); he was able to vent through his letters his suppressed anger about losing his job to a younger worker, and his feelings of alienation from his long-time wife Helen of 42 years - he asked: ("Lately every night. I find myself asking the same question: Who is this old woman who lives in my house? Why is it that every little thing she does irritates me?"); he also expressed his concern about his daughter's upcoming wedding to a loser; his only child - estranged mousy daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis), was engaged to her fiancee Randall Hertzel (Dermot Mulroney), a waterbed salesman: ("Maybe Jeannie is a little past of prime, but I still think she could have done a heck of a lot better. I mean this guy is not up to snuff, if you ask me, I mean not for my little girl")
  • soon after, Warren discovered his unconscious wife Helen on the floor in the kitchen - deceased due to a stroke from a blood clot; it was a major turning point for him; during the visit of Jeannie from Denver for her mother's funeral, Warren had already expressed his outright loathing for his prospective or future son-in-law Randall as a "nincompoop" waterbed salesman, who had foolishly promoted a 'get-rich-quick' investment scheme (actually a pyramid scheme) to him; Jeannie urged her father to find a maid to temporarily help take care of him, while Warren recommended that Jeannie postpone or delay the wedding scheduled a few weeks later, and maybe "rethink things" and keep her "options open"; Jeannie criticized her father for buying a cheap casket and for not treating Helen properly: ("She waited on you hand and foot. Couldn't you have splurged on her just once?"); Warren stressed that he had bought Helen what she wanted - an expensive top of the line Winnebago Adventurer RV ("She wanted the whole shebang")
  • Warren suddenly felt lonely after being left to fend for himself in his large house following the funeral: ("Now that all the excitement is over and the smoke is clear, it's just me and my thoughts knocking around in this big old house...adjusting to life without Helen has been quite a challenge"); clutter and trash had built up in the kitchen, with a bare refrigerator and shelves, and Warren was becoming forgetful and neglectful about keeping up the house and shopping for groceries
  • while going through some of Helen's possessions in her closet, Warren discovered a stack of old love letters, revealing that she had been involved in a secret, long-ago affair with a mutual friend almost 30 years earlier - with his co-worker Ray Nichols; enraged, he threw all of her possessions in boxes and took them to a clothing donation and recycling center drop-off, and then personally confronted Ray outside a barber shop and punched him out
  • Warren immediately decided to begin his road trip to Denver in a newly-purchased, oversized Adventurer R.V. Winnebago, to help with the marriage preparations - actually, he still wanted to try and convince Jeannie to not marry the very-average Randall; however, when he called Jeannie and announced he would be arriving early, she firmly rejected his offer; to stall for time, Warren took a meandering journey on his way from Omaha, Nebraska westward to Denver; first, he visited his childhood home in Holdrege, NE (he found it converted into a Tires Plus store), and then backtracked to his alma mater the Univ. of Kansas and his Beta Sigma Epsilon fraternity house (in Lawrence, KS); he then proceeded westward and north to visit the Custer County Historical Museum of Native-American arrowheads in Broken Bow, NE, and again westward to Buffalo Bill Cody's house in North Platte, NE; he backtracked east to Cozad, NE to visit an antique store wherre he purchased some rare Hummel figurines (that Helen liked to collect)
  • while killing time on his way to Denver, at an RV trailer campground, he met a very congenial Winnebago RV couple from Eau Claire, WI, John and Vicki Rusk (Harry Groener and Connie Ray) and was invited to dinner; after too many beers, the evening turned ugly when Warren made an unexpected pass at the very empathetic Vicki and was soundly rejected; he raced back to his Winnebago and fled the campground
  • the next starry night, Warren delivered a regretful, heartfelt prayer while seated atop his RV lit by candles illuminating some Hummel figurines that he had recently purchased; he spoke to his deceased wife and asked to be forgiven for being an imperfect husband: ("Helen? What did you really think of me, deep in your heart? Was I really the man you wanted to be with? Was I? Or were you disappointed and too nice to show it? I forgive you for Ray. I forgive you. That was a long time ago, and I know I wasn't always the king of kings. I let you down. I'm sorry, Helen. Can you forgive me? Can you forgive me?"); he noticed a possible response - the passing of a shooting star
  • in Denver, he resided in the home of uninhibited, outgoing, flirtatious divorcee (and the mother of the groom-to-be) Roberta Hertzel (Oscar-nominated Kathy Bates); during dinner with the entire family, Warren brought up the uncomfortable subject of Randall's investment scheme (or "pyramid scheme"); everyone had to listen to Randall's father Larry Hertzel (Howard Hesseman), Roberta's divorced ex-husband, deliver an inappropriate toast; the experience confirmed Warren's doubts about the entire disagreeable and "negative" Hertzel family
  • after dinner, Warren pleaded with Jeannie in private to not marry Randall: "You are making a big mistake. Don't marry this guy. Don't do it....I am begging you not to marry Randall. This guy is not up to snuff. He's not in your league"; his warning was not well-received and Jeannie reprimanded him: "I am getting married the day after tomorrow and you are gonna come to my wedding and you are going to sit there and enjoy it and support me, or else you can just turn right around right now and go back to Omaha"
  • as Warren got to know Roberta better, he became very nervous about her description of the "positively white hot" love life of Jeannie and Randall: ("Whatever problems those two kids may run into along the way, they will always be able to count on what happens between the sheets to keep them together"); to soothe Warren's aching back after sleeping on a waterbed during his first night in Denver, Roberta invited the very unwilling Schmidt for an infamous nude hot-tub session in the backyard after the church marriage rehearsal and dinner at Tony Roma's
  • she casually approached the hot tub, greeted him and asked: "Mind if I join you?" as she stripped off her red robe to reveal her earthy, overweight body; she stepped into the hot tub completely naked; during their conversation, she kept hinting: "Just think, after tomorrow we'll all be one big family. And I'm going to insist that you consider this is your second home" - and then she bluntly proposed: "Here we are, a divorcee and a widower. Sounds like a perfect match to me!" as she reached out to touch his leg under the bubbling water
  • intimidated by her, he jumped out as she asked: "What's the matter?" He gave an obvious excuse as he quickly retreated to his Winnebago RV for the night: "Oh, I have to go to bed now"; she was astonished: "Just like that? Come on. We were havin' such a nice talk"; he added: "I'm all tuckered out"
An Intimidated Warren Hot-Tubbing with Roberta
  • after escorting Jeannie down the aisle, Warren sat stone-faced in the front pew by himself during the wedding ceremony, and cracked a brief smile and joined the applause when the presiding offical announced the couple as "man and wife"; in the subsequent, brilliant reception scene after the wedding of his only daughter Jeannie to her fiancee Randall, the "proud" Warren delivered an impassioned, kind, respectful and emotional speech full of tributes to all the members of each family, and found some self-healing and consolation: ("Thank you, to you, Randall, for taking such good care of my daughter especially recently with our loss. Ever since I arrived here a couple of days ago, I have so enjoyed getting to know Jeannie's new family... Everybody else, terrific people. Terrific. And in conclusion, I just want to say on this special day, this very special day, that I am very pleased")
  • Warren wrote a despairing last letter to Ndugu (heard in voice-over) while returning home from the Denver wedding: ("I know we're all pretty small in the big scheme of things and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference. But what kind of difference have I made? What in the world is better because of me?...I am weak and I am a failure. There's just no getting around it. Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in twenty years, maybe tomorrow. It doesn't matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies, too, it will be as though I never even existed. What difference has my life made to anyone? None that I can think of. None at all")
  • once Warren arrived home in the climactic catharsis, he noticed in his stack of mail that he had received his first letter back from Ndugu's missionary mother superior Sister Nadine Gautier at the Sacred Heart orphanage; she had enclosed a stick-figure crayon drawing of a smiling Warren and six year-old Ndugu holding hands; she explained that the boy couldn't read or write, but appreciated his letters nonetheless
  • there was a closing close-up shot of a teary-eyed, elated Warren who realized that he had made a real difference in the illiterate young boy's life

Warren's Last Day in His Office

Warren with Wife Helen (June Squibb) at Retirement Party Dinner

Warren's Boxes of Office Files Ready for Disposal

Warren's Prospective Son-in-Law Randall (Dermot Mulroney)

Warren's Mousy Only Child - Daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis)

John and Vicki Rusk, RV Couple from Wisconsin

Warren's Prayer to Deceased Wife Helen Atop RV

Roberta Hertzel (Kathy Bates)

Randall Explaining the Failure of His "Investment" Scheme ("Pyramid Scheme")

Escorting Daughter to Altar

Stern-Faced Warren During Wedding

Warren's Memorable Wedding Reception Speech in Denver

Warren's Reaction to Letter from Tanzanian Adoptee with Crayon Drawing


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