For what it's worth, I highly recommend this movie, but, as described in detail below, I connected to this movie in a way that some viewers might not.
If you like the writing of John Irving or "The Royal Tenenbaums," you'll probably enjoy this movie. It's a postmodern bend on a fairly classic comedy genre in the sense that it takes the life of a fairly normal guy and puts him through a series of events, some of which could be labeled failures.
IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE MOVIE AND YOU WANT TO, you will not want to read the rest of this message.
The movie starts in Omaha, Nebraska. I lived Omaha from about age 2 to about age 5, so this movie immediately connected with me. Although disguised, I immediately recognized the Mutual of Omaha building in the opening scene. That building really does dominate the Omaha skyline.
The opening scene is poetry. You see a flat midwestern town. You notice a big building in an otherwise flat town. You see a large corporate name, "WOODMEN" emblazoned on the top of the building. Then, the camera pans around the building taking in different views, first from afar than up close. Then you're inside the building, looking at an office with a hideous blue carpet and an old desk, but the office is completely empty but for a neat stack of boxes. And Jack Nicholson (Schmidt) is there in a suit, and, yes, he's looking at the clock. Waiting for five o'clock on what appears to be the last day of his career. And yet he waits, about ten seconds, until the very last second to leave. Five o'clock comes, he sighs, gets up, surveys his office for the last time reflecting on his career, grabs his coat, pauses again, is he proud and sad?, and leaves.
In less than thirty seconds, the movie paints a fairly vivid picture of Schmidt, a man not unlike my father, who worked for 30 long years (or more), probably never called in sick unless he was really ill, was on time every day, rarely left early (unless he had comp time), and provided well for his family.
And, despite its two hour and twenty or so minute running time, the movie is largely efficient in its use of time. I certainly didn't want it to end.
I think the movie uses Nebraska to represent a sort of middle American blandness, which I'm sure annoys the hell out of Nebraskans. I'm suddenly thinking of the song "Omaha" by Counting Crows:
And then it juxtaposes middle-class Omaha against white trash, mullet and ponytail, post-hippy Denver, Colorado.
The movie is masterful in observing the lives of various types of people and, just right below the surface, making light of various stereotypes. Schmidt is middle America and of the generation prior to the Baby Boom. His daughter is Generation X who has met and is about to marry the child of the Baby Boom. The Baby Boom is represented by Kathy Bates, an overweight, braless, at least twice married, foul-mouthed, Manhattan-sipping picture of the product of the 1960s today in Denver, Colorado. And is that Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinnatti? No, not all former hippies live like this character and this family, but this movie decides to pursue the stereotype. "People used to talk when I breast fed him until age 5 ..." Funny stuff.
Schmidt may be a bit bland, but he's a good man. Yeah, but a man who never really connected with anyone, until retirement, but he was just trying to provide for his family. And life is like that, people are not single-dimensional. Part of me wanted the movie to back off trying to corner characters, especially secondary characters, into a stereotype, but it does a good job of not doing this with Schmidt.
I immediately related to this movie. At first, Schmidt was my dad; Mrs. Schmidt was my mom. My mom is a glorious wonderful vibrant woman, and not nearly as boring as the portrayal in the movie of Mrs. Schmidt, but there were things in this couple that a lot of older couples seem to share in common. The vacuuming, the good sandwiches, the perfectly maintained house.
Right at the point when I was all jazzed about calling up Mom and Dad to tell them to watch the movie because I know my parents are going to laugh their asses off at the post-retirement marital situations, Mrs. Schmidt suddenly dies. And other shocking events occur. Now, I'm not so sure they'll enjoy it.
And the movie is very postmodern in a way that resembles a play I saw in college, the name and author of which I can't for the life of me remember.
The movie is also masterful in placing the viewer in a position where you know one of several things are about to happen, but you're never really sure what it might be. Just when you think you know what's going to happen, something slightly different, though not out of character, happens.
This movie is subtle, but affected me strongly. And, yes, sentimental fool that I am, I cried at several points.
And, I can see that this movie just might not connect to all viewers this way, but it did for me. Maybe, it was the Omaha connection, maybe it was the way Mrs. Schmidt puts on Oil of Olay every night before bed, but I was sucked in from the start to the end.
And, of course, it makes you think about the point of your life. What have you really done? Don't wait until your retirement day to ask yourself the question.
I think Roger Ebert is right on the mark: "Most teenagers will probably not be drawn to this movie, but they should attend."
The same goes for twenty-somethings (or this just-turned-thirty-year-old).