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Artwork copyright (c) 2002 New Line Productions, Inc.; review copyright (c) 2003 James Southall



Attractive score for super film


American Beauty was about a man undergoing a mid-life crisis because he has finally snapped, given the perceived futility of his own life, taking things into his own hands (and ending up failing).  Well, About Schmidt is the flip-side of that coin - what if the man had just carried on going to work every day?  Warren Schmidt is a just-retired actuary whose replacement is a clueless kid; he can't even remember why he loves his wife of 42 years, whose silly rules make his home life a nightmare; his daughter is engaged to be married to a man who seems to be at the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, whom he despises; he feels that he has made no difference in life to anyone.  Then something happens: his wife dies.  He doesn't know what to do with himself, so he takes out his new Winnebago (which he didn't want to buy, but his wife forced him) and goes on a trip of several weeks, revisiting many places from his youth (like the place he was born, which is now a tyre shop, and his university) on his way to his daughter's wedding.  He meets all sorts of interesting characters along the way, though fails in his ultimate quest to convince his daughter not to marry the loser; and just as he is lamenting the lack of difference he has made, at the end of the film he receives a letter from his Tanzanian "foster child", to whom he has been contributing $22 per month, saying what a difference he has made to his life.  The film is superb (if sobering), though occasionally the quest for comedy comes at the expense of a little believability in the characters.  Jack Nicholson is in every scene, and gives one of his best performances for years.

Director Alexander Payne - who previously made the acclaimed Election - once again turned to Scottish composer Rolfe Kent for the music.  It is unsubstantial but attractive, which is probably the point - whatever Schmidt does, whoever he meets, the music remains a constant, slightly bland, sombre, unchanging force accompanying him.  There are amusing departures from time to time like in "The Fury of Schmidt", in which he encounters his best friend, a friend he has discovered that his wife had an affair with thirty years earlier; and "Dinner with Randall's Relatives", in which his daughter's fiance's family - a collection of oddballs and goofs - drives him to despair.

Kent's score is based around two good themes, is always melodic and makes for an attractive listen.  There isn't much weight to it, but it serves the film well and makes for a good (if almost impossible to find!) album, which I believe was the first release by New Line Records.  It's good, especially if you are familiar with the film, and even comes with a six-minute track of Jack Nicholson reading his first letter to Ndugu, his foster son, and a fifteen-minute conversation between the composer and director in which they talk about specific cues as the music plays, an ingenious idea that will hopefully be used more often in the future on other CDs.

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  1. The Adventurer (1:38)
  2. Telling Ndugu about the Family (3:38)
  3. About Schmidt (1:29)
  4. Schmidt Went to Denver (1:50)
  5. Randall's Room (1:17)
  6. Guiltily Escaping the Rusks (1:03)
  7. Helen Goes, Schmidt Stays (2:46)
  8. Of Life After Helen (2:26)
  9. The Fury of Schmidt (2:30)
  10. Shopping with Schmidt (2:02)
  11. Missing Helen (1:27)
  12. Riverside Prayer (3:09)
  13. Dinner with Randall's Relatives (1:01)
  14. Schmidt Revisited his Alma Mater (1:26)
  15. Schmidt at the Wedding (1:37)
  16. Omaha Return (3:05)
  17. Ndugu's Painting (1:05)
  18. What I Really Want to Say (1:31)
  19. The End Credits of About Schmidt (2:23)
  20. Constantine and Warren (1:30)
  21. Africaan Beat Bert Kaemphert (2:27)
  22. Ndugu Letter (6:19)
  23. Interview with Alexander Payne and Rolfe Kent (15:04)