About Schmidt is a sad movie. Schmidt, played by Jack Nicholson, is probably just like you and me.
Just like you and me, his story seems ordinary: he works hard his entire life, he retires, he has a party, his wife dies suddenly, he finds out about her infidelity with his best friend and his daughter marries a jerk.
And like the rest of us, Schmidt is not an extraordinarily lovable character. To his chagrin, he is no longer a spring chicken, as the audience is made painfully aware. Although we don’t really know young Schmidt, except in passing, we can guess that in his youth Schmidt was the tense but passive type. Now that he’s retirement age, he’s angry but sweet.
This unflashy, untrendy flick is all about our own plain, simple and familiar lives. In his first days of retirement Schmidt spends a lot of time watching TV to allay his boredom. While watching he becomes transfixed with one of those Children’s Way child sponsorship infomercials. He calls to order an informational packet about a child that he can sponsor. From this point on, the movie stops being just about Schmidt and becomes about his relationship with a small boy halfway across the world.
As part of the program he is encouraged to write his sponsored child a letter. Strangely he decides to keep writing. But his writing compels him to be honest about his life and to reflect upon its meaning. Finally for the first time in his life he is able to communicate all his problems, longings, and regrets to someone, a young African boy. For the first time in his life, he is able to connect his problems to problems that affect us all. And to the extent that he helps this boy Schmidt starts to realize that he himself also needs help. But like for many of us, problems of loneliness, boredom or fear caused by alienation are difficult for him to understand, let alone admit to.
What this movie excels at is showing the causes of Schmidt’s unhappiness: his loveless marriage, the drudgery of working in a job that is unsatisfying, a child that is ungrateful. But like most Americans Schmidt never questions why he is unhappy. He just continues doing what he did the day before, not planing for the future, and not noticing which way the tides flow, and, until now, not looking beyond his own small life.
It is almost by accident, a secret weakness of his compassionate human heart, that he starts sponsoring a child. But from that moment on he starts to look at life from a different perspective.
By the end of the movie he may not be happy but he is happier; he may not be a perfect person but he is getting better. An amazing transformation takes place in this one man. And even though it’s only small changes that he makes, the world is almost exponentially better because one person evolved a little. He even explores the county and realizes the deep injustices done to Native Americans.
But like I said, Schmidt, like the rest of us, makes mistakes, but we too are getting better, and by our small victories the world will reach a revolution.
– Brandi Kishner (firstname.lastname@example.org)