Nicholson goes normal route in subtle comedy, About Schmidt

Seven words may dissuade you from seeing About Schmidt: Kathy Bates naked in a hot tub. Don’t let them.

It’s not one of Jack Nicholson’s most exciting performances. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s Nicholson as we’ve never seen him before. He’s more vulnerable than in As Good as It Gets, and more miserable than in The Shining.

It’s a quieter film for a quieter time in his life. But he shows the audience that he can act normal, too.

Warren Schmidt retires from his insurance salesman career only to find his replacement to be a 20-something jerk. A few days later, his wife dies. Then, his daughter (Hope Davis) tells him she’s going to marry a mullet-sporting waterbed salesman (Dermot Mulroney). So, off he goes in his RV to try and do something right — break up his daughter’s wedding. That’s when he gets seduced by future in-law Bates in said hot tub.

It’s a road-trip movie. But it’s one filled more with detours to real campgrounds and Midwestern tourist traps than black fraternity parties and Pennsylvania back roads, as we’ve seen in recent road-trip movies.

It’s a comedy, but you don’t laugh at the gags. It’s a drama, but you don’t cry at the tragedy. It’s a simple story about a simple man coming to terms with his life and family.

Willy Loman took the easy way out in Death of a Salesman. Here, we see a man who struggles but is willing to admit he has been wrong.

And we see Nicholson pull it off with the same old charm, wit and eyebrows that we’ve gotten used to, but with a tinge of normalcy thrown in for flavor.

The plot doesn’t drive the film as much as it serves as a means to an end. It’s a film about contentment. For some, it just takes a little longer.

Again, not one of Nicholson’s craziest — but it may rank up with the best.

About Schmidt is Rated R and now playing.

Contact Will Albritton at