Theater 15, way down at the end of the auxiliary corridor, was packed for this afternoon's showing of About Schmidt. The room started filling up shortly after we got there, which was still twenty minutes before the scheduled start time. And yet, a group of a dozen people arrived just as the lights were going down.
They made a big production of discussing who was going to sit with whom. They asked people to move down in their rows, and even after the previews started they were still changing seats like a bunch of seventh graders on a field trip. They giggled and snorted like that, too. (They weren't. They were closer to my age.)
When Jack Nicholson accepted his Golden Globe for best actor in a drama, he said he thought he was making a comedy. The crowd at today's showing wouldn't have disappointed him. The laughter was frequent and not, as sometimes happens when people actively want to like a movie that much, inappropriate.
Our appreciation of his performance was definitely magnified by how well we already knew him. He's a larger-than-life character as a person, and we're used to watching every move he makes, down to the twitch of an eye. He's in nearly every scene in this movie, and his character is the only one that matters. We wouldn't want to watch a lesser light attempt this kind of command for two hours.
The film takes us on this man's journey during the first year after his retirement and the death of his wife, as he tries to find his place in the world without the two elements that defined him for most of his life. When he most needs to know that he matters, he feels the most insignificant. What relevance he finds comes from a surprising and unexpected source (to him, if not to us).
Do we ever know how other people see us, and what we mean in their lives? Sometimes just going on from day to day and doing the best we can is all it takes to make a difference. I was tremendously affected by this movie, and by Jack's portrayal of a man fumbling his way through a crisis he isn't even aware he's in. The noble sincerity of the quest, and the dignified performance, make this another of my favorite recent films.