The film begins shortly after the retirement of Schmidt as an actuary in an insurance company. Schmidt finds it hard to adjust to his new life and begins feeling useless, when he sees a television advertisement about a foster program for African children. Not thinking much about it but moved by images of suffering children, he signs up for the program and soon receives an information package with a photo of "his" foster child, a small Tanzanian boy named Ndugu, to whom he relates the following events in self-centric letters.
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As he already starts feeling alienation from her, Schmidt's wife suddenly dies from a blood clot[?] in her brain. He is briefly consoled by his friends and his daughter Jeannie. Jeannie intends to marry Randall Hertzel (played by Dermot Mulroney[?]), a union opposed by Schmidt, who feels that the sleazy salesman is not up to his daughter's standards. After the couple returns to Denver, Schmidt is again left alone. He decides to take a journey in his new Winnebago[?] to his daughter, but when he calls her, she insists that he only arrive shortly before the wedding and not earlier.
Schmidt then decides to travel to places of his past instead. After a journey that proves to be emotionally rewarding, Schmidt arrives in Denver shortly before his daughter's wedding. As he meets her eccentric family, he still tries to dissuade her from the marriage, but then reluctantly accepts it and gives an enthusiastic speech at her wedding. When he returns home, Schmidt questions what he has accomplished in his life. Then he discovers a letter from Tanzania.
About Schmidt is a slow and emotional movie; the introspective lead is an unsual character for Nicholson, whose performances in movies like The Shining and As Good As It Gets are frequently over-the-top, earning him the reputation to play "manic weirdos". As the title suggests, the movie focuses almost entirely on Warren Schmidt, giving little attention to the deeper thoughts and feelings of the other characters. It is straight-forward to the point of opening itself to the criticism of simplicity, but Nicholson's performance puts a straight face on the movie's message of altruism.
The movie has been rated R ("Restricted; Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian") in the United States for some profanity and a brief sequence of nudity in a scene where Randall Hertzel's sexually promiscuous mother Roberta (Kathy Bates[?], known for her lead role in Misery[?]) tries to seduct him in a hot tub[?]. It was nominated for two Oscars in 2003 but received none. The runtime of the movie is 125 minutes.