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Last Updated:  Friday, 24 January, 2003, 13:26 GMT
Nicholson laid bare in Schmidt

By Alexandra Fouché
BBC News Online

Nicholson gives in to old age for his latest role
Jack Nicholson is still winning plaudits and awards with his latest role as an ageing father who sets out on a journey of self-discovery after the death of his wife in About Schmidt.

It is not every day you see a grown man cry, and it is certainly not every day you see Jack Nicholson sob for dear life, but in About Schmidt you will be treated to both.

Five years after his Oscar-winning turn in As Good as it Gets, Jack Nicholson returns with another award-winning role, portraying Mr Average in his most atypical role yet.

After winning the Golden Globe for best actor in a drama, which prompted him to quip: "I thought we made a comedy", he is now widely tipped for the Oscar.

To play retiring insurance salesman Warren Schmidt, Nicholson underwent a startling physical transformation, complete with fat rolls, grey suit and thinning hair.

Schmidt, who has led a humdrum life in deepest Nebraska without asking himself too many questions, is faced with the emptiness of it all after his wife abruptly dies.

Kathy Bates as the smug hippy mother
Kathy Bates puts in a good performance
In a sudden surge of existentialism, he asks himself: "What trace will I leave behind?", and decides to hit the road in the mobile home he and his wife had planned to tour the country with.

He sets his heart on taking a trip down memory lane before attending his daughter's wedding.

All the way, Schmidt details his adventures to a six-year-old Tanzanian boy he has decided to sponsor in a bid to make his life matter - a clever narrative device which gives us a further insight into the desert of his mind.

You are left wondering for a minute where the whimsical, over-sexed Nicholson has got to, but he does put in a brief appearance when Schmidt attempts to kiss his mobile-home neighbour.

Although he does dominate the film in his own, inimitable way, he is also strongly seconded by Kathy Bates as the overbearing hippy mother-in-law, unafraid to bare all, and Dermot Mulroney in a hilarious performance as his hapless waterbed salesman of a son-in-law.

About Schmidt is directed by Alexander Payne - who along with co-writer Jim Taylor won the Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay - the man behind the sardonic Election.

His finely observed piece is universal in its appeal and casts a wry eye over old age, marriage, fatherhood and the meaning of life.

"I am weak and I am a failure," says Schmidt along the way.

But his pathetic ways are just what makes him loveable and human, and what ultimately allows us to shed a tear along with him when he realises that this is all there is to it.

About Schmidt
Radio 4's Front Row debates Jack Nicholson's performance

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