Not expecting "About Schmidt" to be this depressing. For a film in the comedy section, the deeper meaning is everything but funny.
Many think this movie is about a recently widowed and failed father attempting to find happiness, but it's not. Instead, it is about a widower and failed father realizing how meaningless and lacking his life really is. I was surprised to see this film in the comedy section because the deeper meanings show depression, anger and loneliness. It is true that Nicholson does add some comic relief, but overall you feel depressed after watching it. It successfully illustrates what life is like if you put your job, paycheck and middle-class suburban home before your family.
The role of Warren Schmidt, although bland and emotionless, is challenging to an actor. So many movies today attempt to glorify peoples lives by showing happiness, Warren gets that same glorification in the showing of his lackluster existence. Our first impressions of the recently retired and utterly invisible actuary is a painfully awkward last-day-at-work at scene. While normal people would be having an in-office party of some sort, Warren sits in his prison cell style room and counts the seconds until 5pm. His office, looking like it was never adorned with decorations, is as depressing as his demeanor. Warren's retirement dinner later that evening, joined by equally lifeless friends and neighbors, seemed to be even more painful than the 30 second beginning scene of him staring at a clock. Filled with moochers only there for the free 'average' mean, there is little talk, few speeches and, in the end more awkwardness.
With an equally dull and drab 42 year-old marriage, Warren feels that he doesn't know who his wife is. Before his retirement, he used his job as an excuse to being an absent father and spouse. As a result, his children are just as emotionally unattached as Warren is to his wife, Helen (June Squibb). Since the retirement, not only does he face a useless existence, but now he has all the time in the world to see how miserable his life really is.
Helen and Warren had planned, after retirement, to travel the country in their extreme 35ft. Winnebago Explorer. These plans are cut short suddenly, with Helen's death. Warren, already backed-in-a-corner, must face his life alone. The only relationship Warren manages to have is with a 6-year-old African child, Ndugu. Found after watching a TV advertisement for an African children's charity, Warren manages to pour all his emotion into a series of letters sent to Ndugu.
Although not too taken back from his wife's demise, in a few scenes he did resemble Howard Beale from "Network" (Minus the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore" rant). In a sudden act of jumpstarting his life, Warren decides to take a road-trip and see all the sites that remain forgotten in his life. The sites represent the stages of his life that he managed to overlook. In this attempt to perform his own "Bucket List," Warren has several different experiences. He is analyzed by a therapist who tells him that he is truly sad man with deep feelings of anger and fear of being lonely, and he meets his soon-to-be in-laws. With the death of Helen, we are introduced to Warren's daughter, Jeannie (Hope Davis) and her waterbed selling finance, Randall (Dermot Mulroney). Although Warren considers Randall to be an idiot, due to his lack of contribution in Jeannie's' life and his overall fear of commitment, he remains silent about his true feelings (until the day before the wedding).
The main comic aspect to this film lies in Randall's family. Similar to Eddie's family in National Lampoons, they are the most dysfunctional family you can imagine. The head of the family is the excessively loony Roberta Hertzel (Kathy Bates) who, not only shares her sexual desires with Warren, but does not stay fully clothed during the entire film. With his conservative life-style and meaningless 40-year marriage, Warren is suddenly thrown into an interesting situation, with a very available Roberta half-naked in a hot tub. Her character is supposed to be one of fun and cheer. She is no Annie Wilkes, but the faults of her character help show that Warren is not a bad man - he just has no desires or cares in life.
"About Schmidt" is not about the life of Warren Schmidt, but about the illusion of his life. Surrounded by a family of strangers and a pack of fake friends, the movie shows a man with a caged soul and a diminishing emotional closeness to his daughter. Throughout his life, Warren spends all his time analyzing other peoples lives (the insurance game). He never looked at his own. This film makes you look at your own life and say, "I do not want to be like this."