Jack Nicholson experiments with quirky aloofness and projects baffled charm. Alexander Payne’s film (from Louis Begley’s novel) is about Warren Schmidt, a dull retiree and widower who rebuffs change in his sleep.
He “adopts” a Tanzanian refugee boy and writes to him knowing he’ll get no answer: the perfect arrangement. Things are less easy when it comes to his daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis), who is about to marry into a dubious family. The impending marriage sends Schmidt on a Winnebago trip to the groom’s home and brings him into contact with Roberta Hertzl (Kathy Bates), who shakes Schmidt from his loner’s tree, if only just al little.
Though Payne (“Election”) is generous with humor and melancholy — “I see inside you a sad man,” a woman tells Schmidt in a mobile home park — this is a mournful film and Schmidt a paradigm for life lived innocuously.