Rating: R (for some language and brief nudity)
Release Date: December 13, 2002 (NY, LA, Omaha; wider release: January 3, 2003)
Actors: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, June Squibb, Kathy Bates, Howard Hesseman
Director: Alexander Payne
Special Notes: Nicholson swears this role is the other side of his personality and that he is very much like this character and not the Hollywood one we all know him for.
Plot: After Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) retires from a lifetime of service as an actuary for Woodmen of the World Insurance Company, his wife Helen (Squibb) dies suddenly after 42 years of marriage and Warren is left to face life alone and attend the marriage of his only daughter to a man (Mulroney) Warren dislikes. Suddenly Warren is very aware of the empty life he leads and even sponsors a child after watching an infomercial so that he can find meaning in his unimpressive life. He sets out on a sort of journey of self-discovery, exploring his childhood roots across Nebraska in his motor home and taking in the sights along the way. Ultimately he arrives in Denver for his daughter's wedding and is immediately embraced by the groom's divorced mother (Bates) and father (Hesseman). Appalled by the fact that these bizarre people will be his future in-laws, Warren can't seem to get past his feeling that his daughter is marrying "beneath her" and he sets out to enlighten her and hopefully stop the wedding. All the while Warren is documenting his travels, thoughts, and intimate details of his life to his new friend, Ndugu Umbo, a six-year-old Tanzanian orphan whom he sponsors for $22 a month. As Warren journals his thoughts and feelings to the boy, he begins to realize that there's much to life that he's missed and that ultimately, he wants to make a difference and know that he has touched someone's life in a memorable way.
Good: I have to admit that the biggest reason to see this movie is to watch Jack "be Jack"--you won't be disappointed. Nicholson has made an art form out of a simple look or stare and his deadpan delivery has never been funnier. This is a well-written story with pearls of wisdom and nuggets of truisms spread all the way through it. I enjoyed seeing Jack play a man who is forced to come to terms with his age and try and grasp the life he's missed and make the best of the years he has left. There are tender scenes of a father trying to reach out to his adult daughter, funny scenes of Warren making friends with people along the way, and hilarious commentaries about life that he conveys in letters written to Ndugu. There is an unforgettable scene of Nicholson and Bates getting ready to share a relaxing hot tub together that turns into a funny situation when Bates disrobes. She steps into the hot tub nude and shocks Nicholson with her casual demeanor. I especially enjoyed seeing Jack play his age with a woman who's older and has gray hair (usually he stars with a woman half his age.) All in all there are profound lessons about life, love, and family that are definitely worth watching and especially worth learning from. Does your life matter? Are you influencing those around you? How will loved ones remember you? Do you take your family for granted? Are you a father that is a workaholic or do you make time for your children? These are some of the questions this movie will force you to ask yourself and that's what I loved about it! It makes you take time to reflect on who you are and how you are effecting others--and that's what movies should sometimes do!
Bad: This is an adult movie about adult themes and issues, so go expecting it to be an introspective story. Along with some obscenities and a few religious profanities, there are a couple of scenes that have Jack narrating derogatory comments about his wife. There are a couple of crude scenes of Warren urinating by standing as well as sitting on the toilet. There's a brief nude shot of a naked Bates as she gets into a hot tub (yes, flabby skin and all) and another quick shot of her breasts when she's in the water, and we see a brief shot of Jack's rear as he disrobes to get dressed. A lengthy dialogue takes place referring to a couple's sexual practices. We see a man attack another in a jealous rage, but no one is hurt.
Bottom Line: This is an adult movie meant for mature audiences who can appreciate the mental, physical, and age appropriate stages these characters are at in life. All I can say is that we the audience are much richer for these kind of roles that make us laugh, shed a tear, and think about who we are and what our purpose is here on earth. I can't help but make the observation that with just a simple extra line or small comment in a movie like this one, the story could carry a subtle spiritual or Godly message that could profoundly change people's hearts. Despite the fact that a spiritual moment is only hinted at (with Nicholson making the Catholic sign of the cross after gazing up into the night sky, speaking to his wife and seeing a shooting star), hopefully this story will do just that.