I'm still confused about why "About Schmidt" was marketed as and still seems to be considered a comedy. I found it involving, well-acted, well-written and yes, there are a few laughs to be had, but the film is largely a drama about a man trying to come to terms with the fact that his life hasn't been what he thought it'd be. Jack Nicholson stars as Warren Schmidt, an insurance claims adjuster who, as the movie opens, is retiring from his job, replaced by a younger man with less experience and less interest in hearing Warren's ideas about how things should work.
A few days after retirement, his wife - who he's only recently realized how much he resents - passes away from a blood clot. There's resentment and problems from another direction - Schmidt finds that his daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis) resents him - a condition further heightened by his objection to her marriage to airhead salesman Randall (Dermot Mulroney). All the while, Warren writes letters to a starving Orphan whose contact information he got from a TV informercial. The narration of his letters works for the character and adds to the film.
Warren sets off in the mobile home he picked out with his wife for Denver, where Jeannie is meant to be married to Randall. Things don't go any better, as Warren is confronted not only with trying to stop the upcoming marriage, but with the advances of Randall's mother, Roberta (Kathy Bates - yes, she does get naked).
At its core, "About Schmidt" is an engaging story about families and getting older. The idea of retirement, watching kids get married and see the care that one put into their job not continued is likely going to be uncomfortably real for many viewers. However, these elements and Warren's search for meaning and perspective are presented thoughtfully, with warmth and sincerity. While the movie doesn't always have respect for some of its characters, the performances - especially Schmidt and Bates - are quite good.
The tone of the movie is matched nicely by the look. The film's appearance is clearly realistic, with moody gray skies, natural lighting and little make-up. The film's pacing is fine; while a tad slow in paces, the film introduces the feel and mood early on, and the viewer settles in, understanding what kind of picture this is. Although largely melancholy, bits of humor (although there are some iffy ones, which only work because of Nicholson's reaction to the situations) are spaced fairly well throughout.
It may not venture down roads previously unexplored, but "About Schmidt" often surprises, entertains and - especially towards the end - is quite moving. Although there are some fine supporting performances, it's largely Nicholson's movie, and his performance is marvelous.
VIDEO: "About Schmidt" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by New Line Home Entertainment. Although it may have been the particular theater, I actually found the DVD of the film to provde a noticably more enjoyable presentation than the print I saw theatrically. Largely using what appears to be natural light and exteriors/interiors that are not dressed up much beyond what they've already got, the picture looked noticably soft and almost muddy at times (especially the opening sequence in the restaurant) in the theater. The DVD's picture quality looks noticably cleaner, with better definition and clarity. Although the picture isn't consistently well-defined and does appear a bit soft here and there, it still looks better than I remember it.
Flaws are generally few-and-far-between. I noticed a slight hint or two of edge enhancement as well as a couple of traces of compression artifacts, but neither issue was distracting. The print looked in fine shape, with no specks or marks. Also pleasing was the color palette; while subdued, colors were still presented accurately and cleanly.
SOUND: "About Schmidt" is presented by New Line in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. Although the inclusion of a DTS soundtrack option is appreciated, it really doesn't make much of a difference when compared to its Dolby counterpart. The film's soundtrack is largely dialogue-driven, with surrounds only used lightly a couple of times for some reinforcement of the music and a moment or two of ambience. Audio quality is perfectly fine, with clear dialogue and crisp music.
EXTRAS: 9 deleted scenes are offered, with text explanations, but no commentary. 5 "Woodman Tower" short films (in other words, alternate opening shots of Omaha). The theatrical trailers for "About Schmidt", "I Am Sam" and "Unconditional Love" are also offered.
Final Thoughts: "About Schmidt" is a strong drama with a performance from Jack Nicholson that's one of his best in quite a while. New Line's DVD edition offers very good audio/video quality, but I would have liked more supplements. Still, recommended.