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About Schmidt

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About Schmidt
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlexander Payne
Screenplay by
Based onAbout Schmidt
by Louis Begley
Produced byMichael Besman
Harry Gittes
CinematographyJames Glennon
Edited byKevin Tent
Music byRolfe Kent
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release dates
  • May 22, 2002 (2002-05-22) (Cannes)
  • December 13, 2002 (2002-12-13) (United States)
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[1]
Box office$105.8 million[1]

About Schmidt is a 2002 American comedy-drama film co-written and directed by Alexander Payne and starring Jack Nicholson in the title role. The film also stars Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, and Kathy Bates. It is loosely based on the 1996 novel of the same title by Louis Begley. After it was released in theaters by New Line Cinema on December 13, 2002, the film enjoyed both critical and commercial success, earning $105.8 million on a $30 million budget.


Warren Schmidt is retiring from his position as an actuary with Woodmen of the World, a life insurance company in Omaha, Nebraska. After a retirement dinner, Schmidt finds it hard to adjust to his new life, feeling useless.

Warren sees a television advertisement about a foster program for African children, Plan USA, and decides to sponsor a child. He soon receives an information package with a photo of his foster child, a small Tanzanian boy named Ndugu Umbo, to whom he relates his life in a series of candid, rambling letters.

Schmidt visits his young successor at the life insurance company to offer his help, but he is politely declined. As he leaves the building, Schmidt sees the contents and files of his office, his entire career, set out for the garbage. He describes to Ndugu his longtime alienation from Helen, his wife, who dies from a blood clot in her brain just after their purchase of a Winnebago Adventurer motor home.

Jeannie, their daughter, and her fiancé, Randall Hertzel, a waterbed salesman, arrive from Denver. Consoling him at the funeral, she later berates him for taking his wife for granted, refusing to fully pay for the Winnebago (he wanted the cheaper model) and getting her a cheap casket. He asks her to move back to take care of him, but she refuses. Meanwhile, Randall tries to rope him into a pyramid scheme.

Schmidt feels his daughter could do better than Randall. After they leave, Schmidt is overcome by loneliness. He stops showering, sleeps in front of the television, and goes shopping with a coat over pajamas to load up on frozen foods. When he discovers hidden love letters disclosing Helen's long-ago affair with Ray, a mutual friend, Schmidt collects all her possessions and dumps them unceremoniously next to a clothing donations bin. He then confronts Ray for his betrayal.

Deciding to take a journey in the new Winnebago to visit his daughter and convince her not to marry Randall, he tells her he is coming early for the wedding. She makes it clear she does not want him there until right before the ceremony, so Schmidt visits places from his past, including his college campus and fraternity at University of Kansas and his hometown in Holdrege, Nebraska. His childhood home is now a tire shop.

At a trailer campground, he is invited to dinner by a friendly and sympathetic couple. When the man goes for beer, Schmidt makes a pass at the wife, and flees in terror when she adamantly rejects him. Sitting on the roof of his RV on a starry night, Schmidt forgives his departed wife for her affair, apologizing to her for his own failings. At that moment, he is amazed to see a bright meteor streak across the sky, taking it as a possible sign from Helen.

Feeling full of purpose and energetic renewal, Schmidt arrives in Denver, where he stays at the home of Roberta, Randall's mother. He is appalled by his eccentric, odd, lower-middle-class family (compared to Schmidt's as an upper middle class corporate executive) and can't dissuade Jeannie from the marriage. Schmidt throws out his back after sleeping on Randall's waterbed, infuriating Jeannie. Roberta assures him that a soak in her hot tub will help his back, but he flees after she makes a pass at him in the tub. The next day, Schmidt, exhausted from a restless night, attends the wedding and delivers a kind speech at the reception, hiding his disapproval.

On his way home, Schmidt composes a letter to Ndugu. He questions his life accomplishments, lamenting that he will soon be dead, that his life has made no difference to anyone, and that eventually it will be as if he has never existed at all.

A pile of mail is waiting for him at home. Schmidt opens a letter from Tanzania. It is from a nun, who writes that Ndugu is six and unable to read and reply to Schmidt's letters on his own, but appreciates them and Schmidt's financial support very much. The enclosed crayon drawing, of Ndugu and Schmidt holding hands on a sunny day, moves Schmidt to tears.



Payne's script to About Schmidt was initially an original screenplay written years before Begley's novel was published.[2][3] According to Payne, his script was about "an old guy who retires, and realizes how much he’s wasted his life, and wants somehow to start anew— The Graduate at age sixty-five."[4] Payne’s original script was titled The Coward.[5] Payne completed the script in 1991 and offered it to Universal Pictures, but the studio rejected it. Following the publication of Begley's novel in 1996, Payne decided to combine his script with the plot of the novel, thus making it an adaptation.[4]

Filming began in March of 2001 and took place in several Nebraska cities, including Omaha, Nebraska City, Minden, Kearney, and Lincoln.[3][6] Omaha was chosen because it was where Payne grew up. At least one scene was filmed in Denver where Nicholson's character is driving in front of the famous Ogden Theater located at 935 E Colfax. Filming concluded in May 2001.[6]

Before agreeing to the nude hot tub scene, Kathy Bates said she hashed out with director Alexander Payne exactly what part of her anatomy would be shown and what wouldn't. "I battled to make myself comfortable, and he battled to get what he wanted. We met in the middle."[7]


Box office[edit]

In the United States, the film grossed $8,533,162 on its opening weekend. Its total U.S. box office gross stands at $65,005,217, while total worldwide gross totals $107,054,484.[1][8]

Critical response[edit]

About Schmidt drew praise from a number of critics, who singled out the performances of Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. Film website Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 85% based on 203 reviews, with an average rating of 7.71/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "In this funny, touching character study, Nicholson gives one of the best performances of his career."[9] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[11]

Roger Ebert gave About Schmidt three-and-a-half out of four stars and wrote the following for the Chicago Sun-Times: About Schmidt "is essentially a portrait of a man without qualities, baffled by the emotions and needs of others. That Jack Nicholson makes this man so watchable is a tribute not only to his craft, but to his legend: Jack is so unlike Schmidt that his performance generates a certain awe. Another actor might have made the character too tragic or passive or empty, but Nicholson somehow finds within Schmidt a slowly developing hunger, a desire to start living now that the time is almost gone."[12]

Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter wrote: "It's a commanding Jack Nicholson lead performance that puts it into a sublime league of its own."[13] Paul Clinton of CNN.com wrote: "About Schmidt is undoubtedly one of the finest films of the year. If you're not deeply touched by this movie, check your pulse."[14]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Recipient Result
75th Academy Awards[15] Best Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Kathy Bates Nominated
56th British Academy Film Awards[16] Best Actor Jack Nicholson Nominated
60th Golden Globe Awards[17] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Director Alexander Payne Nominated
Best Screenplay Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor Won
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Jack Nicholson Won
Best Supporting Actress Kathy Bates Nominated
7th Satellite Awards Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Jack Nicholson Nominated
Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture Drama Kathy Bates Nominated

Upon accepting his Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama, Nicholson stated, "I'm a little surprised. I thought we made a comedy."[18]

It was also part of the Official Competition Selection at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.[19]

Home media [edit]

About Schmidt was released on DVD and VHS on June 3, 2003.[20] It was released on Blu-ray for the first time on February 3, 2015.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "About Schmidt (2002) - Financial Information". The Numbers.
  2. ^ Begley, Louis (January 19, 2003). "My Novel, the Movie: My Baby Reborn; 'About Schmidt' Was Changed, But Not Its Core". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  3. ^ a b Konigsberg, Eric (May 28, 2001). "Not Really About Schmidt". The New Yorker. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  4. ^ a b Talbot, Margaret (28 October 2013). "Home Movies". The New Yorker. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
  5. ^ Rechtshaffen, Michael (December 13, 2018). "'About Schmidt': THR's 2002 Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 1, 2024.
  6. ^ a b Conklin, Mike (August 7, 2003). "'About Schmidt'". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on May 16, 2023. Retrieved May 16, 2023.
  7. ^ "Nudity's a big deal for Kathy Bates". www.sfgate.com. 29 November 2002. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  8. ^ "About Schmidt (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 14, 2013.
  9. ^ "About Schmidt (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved October 14, 2013.
  10. ^ "About Schmidt Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved October 14, 2013.
  11. ^ "About Schmidt". CinemaScore. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (20 December 2002). "About Schmidt". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 4 November 2011.
  13. ^ Rechtshaffen, Michael (May 22, 2002). "'About Schmidt': THR's 2002 Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  14. ^ Clinton, Paul (December 13, 2002). "Review: 'About Schmidt' a triumph". CNN.com. Archived from the original on February 21, 2008. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  15. ^ "75th Academy Awards". oscars.org.
  16. ^ "Film in 2003". bafta.org.
  17. ^ "Winners & Nominees 2003". goldenglobes.com. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  18. ^ Neibaur, James L. (December 2016). The Essential Jack Nicholson. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-4422-6989-7.
  19. ^ "Festival de Cannes: About Schmidt". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on August 22, 2011. Retrieved 2009-10-24.
  20. ^ "About Schmidt Motors to Home Video June 3". hive4media.com. March 10, 2003. Archived from the original on May 4, 2005. Retrieved September 29, 2019.
  21. ^ "About Schmidt Blu-ray". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved 16 May 2023.

External links[edit]