After the wickedly funny Election, Payne returns with another
deeply incisive--and much more introspective--look at Middle
America. Warren Schmidt (Nicholson) is a resolutely normal
guy who has given his whole life to working for an insurance
company in Omaha. On the day of his retirement, his future
yawns in front of him like a vast empty void; how can he get
very excited about spending his remaining years rattling around
a gigantic Winnebago with his doting wife (Squibb), while
his daughter (Davis) is about to marry a goofball (Mulroney)?
And before he even has a chance to get used to the idea, everything
changes and he goes on an odyssey that forces him to confront
his past and future ... and everyone around him.
The film has such a profoundly personal feel to it that it
takes the breath away, pulling us into Warren's mind and slowly
revealing themes and ideas without ever beating us over the
head with them. This is fiercely clever filmmaking on every
level--the writing and direction are subtle and revelatory.
And the same can be said for Nicholson's performance; his
usual larger-than-life persona is completely gone here! This
is merely a shattered, struggling, 66-year-old man who hasn't
quite given up yet. As he describes his life in letters to
his sponsored African child Ndugu, we get the feeling that
he's facing himself honestly for perhaps the first time ever.
Far from being a typical movie voiceover, this actually adds
nuance and insight to the film. Meanwhile, we get superb support
from Davis (the daughter struggling with being both ignored
and controlled by her dad), Mulroney (the nincompoop with
a heart of gold) and of course Bates (as his frighteningly
frank earth mother). There's a lot going on here--from the
up-close examination of this one man on the verge of oblivion
to a razor-sharp satire of the over-familiarity of American
culture. And there are also universal themes about how we
spend our lives, where we set our priorities and who we give
importance to. These are the ideas that haunt us long after
the prickly comedy has faded.