Wednesday, December 18, 2019

About Schmidt

Some movies based on books adhere to the essence of the novels.  To Kill a Mockingbird is an example. Some movies take liberties with the story such that there are significant differences in the plot of the movie. An example is Presumed Innocent.  Then there are movies that change the film so radically such that there is very little about the book in the movie. An example is Up in the Air and in that case the movie is better than the book.

However, I cannot imagine a movie based on a book to have less of a connection with its alleged source than About Schmidt.  Several years ago I saw the movie with Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates--and I enjoyed it.  Recently I read a review of Olive, Again (after I had written my own) in which the Schmidt of the novel About Schmidt was referred to.   At that time I did not even know that the film was based on a book.  I thought it would be interesting to read what had inspired the film I liked.

Folks, about the only significant thing about the novel that is the same as the movie is the title.  Everything else that is substantive about the book was changed in the movie.  Schmidt in the book is a wealthy ex lawyer who is recently a widower.  In the movie, Schmidt a mid level administrator, retires and he and his wife plan a new life in a camper van.  Then she dies and he travels across the country in the camper.  In the book Schmidt has a big house on Long Island, has or develops an estranged relationship with his daughter, is lonely, has an improbable affair, and drinks a whole lot without seemingly getting smashed on any particular occasion.

So, besides the fact that the movie and book are two separate works of fiction, what did I think of the book?

It has its moments.  We do learn about Schmidt more than we learn about Schmidt in the film.  He at 60 is contemplating mortality. Brooding about his age brings no sympathy from me, 10 years his senior, and not feeling particularly marginalized for the most part. But that is what makes me different from Schmidt. He, is loaded, but disconnected.  He does not like his daughter's fiance, and feels especially annoyed because the groom to be was groomed by Schmidt to work in his ex law firm where the beau presently thrives while Schmidt is treated like a horse put out to pasture. Then there's the fact that the beau is Jewish and Schmidt harbors some WASPish anti-semitism.

There are parts of the book that are well written, but other parts that are just poorly written.  Of the former there is the affair with a restaurant waitress which while not quite believable is crafted well generating no small amount of steam.  But the parts with Bryan, the waitress's boyfriend are not well done.  And the end kind of fizzles out though you can tell he is gearing up for a sequel (which I discovered when reading the review is what happens).

Sometimes I read books and because of the story lines I think the author is just horny.  So much of Schmidt and About Schmidt relates to his carnal interests. We all have them and I am happy to say that I have not lost my enthusiasm, but gee this guy meets his daughter's mother in law to be, and she flirts with him at the family Thanksgiving dinner. He had an au pair who could not wait to do the slow dance--and then there is the waitress 40 years his junior, nearly ten years younger than his daughter who knocks on his door at 1 am and after minor small talk can't disrobe fast enough. Then there is Schmidt's friend who had an affair and left his wife for the lover, only to have a torrid affair in his office and his lover turned second wife is now the jilted one.  Also, the mother in law to be relays how she, ho hum, has had a lover for 20 years.

Look, I went to school in the 60s and was single in the 70s when there was a whole lot of shaking going on, but these folks seem to be frolicking a bit more than what is normal. Either that part of the story is not realistic, or I hung out and hang out with monks--which was/is not the case.

Also, the drinking. I like to have a cold one now and again, but if I drank as much as Schmidt and his friends my liver would have been pickled before I was eligible for social security.

Do I recommend the book? Well not if you are reading it because you liked the movie.  But there is enough about it which might be engaging.  You do learn about Schmidt--the question I have is, is Schmidt that real?  In the end, I just could not buy that he was.  And I am unlikely to read a sequel.

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