Any doubts you might have about the greatness of Jack Nicholson as an actor would be dispelled by this film.
He is never type-cast but his persona was more as rebel in confrontation.
Here he plays Warren Schmidt, a retired actuary in Nebraska, who buys a mobile home with the intention of travelling around the US with his wife but the plans have to change upon her sudden death.
The theme is a person in later life trying to assess his own worth and legacy.
He decides to foster a Tanzanian child Itogu and much of the film is his dialogue with him.
Schmidt’s daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) is about to marry Randall Hertzel, a rather feckless waterbed salesman.
Schmidt does not approve of him but Jeannie’s strained relationship is further worsened when he makes this clear.
You might have thought a film about retirement set neither in New York nor California would lack immediate appeal but it doesn’t largely because Nicholson inhabits the role so convincingly and it is actually a comedy.
Randall ’s mother Roberta (Kathy Bates) is an alcoholic ex-hippy who has designs on Schmidt.
At one point she persuaded him to take a hot tub and then (naked) joins him.
Nicholson’s face is a picture.
Director Alexander Payne also made Sideways, with a similar theme of self assessment through a road journey.
Here the main actor Paul Giamatta is a wine buff with a novel that he has yet to finish.
Payne is particularly adept in drawing fine performances from his lead actors.
Nicholson was already a big star whilst Giamatta went on to become one.