Movie #68: As Good As It Gets (1997)

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Director: James L. Brooks

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, and Cuba Gooding Jr.

“How do you write women so well?” “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”

Romance novelist Melvin Udall (Nicholson) is the world’s least romantic person.  He’s obsessive-compulsive, rude, prejudiced and selfish.  He eats at one restaurant, with his own plastic cutlery, where waitress Carol (Hunt) tolerates him.  When Melvin’s gay neighbor Simon (Kinnear) is beaten up during a robbery, Melvin is enlisted to take care of his dog Verdell.  As Melvin grows fond of Verdell, his relationships change with both Simon and Carol as he gains his humanity and in the end cares about these people.

This role was made for Jack Nicholson, and he gives one of the best performances of his career.  He is one of the few people who can be so over the top, offensive, and still be able to pull it off.  He’s so matter-of-fact with his disdain for others in a way that not many actors can accurately portray.  His flair and complementary one liners also provide a lot of the comedy in this film.

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Melvin learns Carol has an asthmatic son, Spencer, and sends a doctor (portrayed nicely by Harold Ramis) out to diagnose and take care of him.  This happened after Melvin befriended Verdell, and it’s a nice way of showing how Melvin is changing.  He doesn’t understand a lot of social norms and assumptions, though, and frequently goes over the line.  Here is another place where Nicholson’s talent shows through.  He does this random, offensive things in a way that he doesn’t realize why or how he’s being offensive.

Melvin and Carol’s relationship is at the heart of the story.  Even though there’s a vast age difference between Nicholson and Hunt, they complement each other well in this movie.  Each won lead acting Oscars for their roles in As Good As It Gets, and I think it’s both a reflection of their own talent and their chemistry.  Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks do a great job of writing their banter and making each person very real.  I’ve said many times I enjoy films far more when they reflect real life, and Carol and Melvin, the unlikelihood of their relationship, and the natural chemistry they have with each other are all real things that can reflect everyday life.

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Greg Kinnear also received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, though he didn’t win.  I always go back and forth with his performances.  He’s talented, I won’t argue that.  Getting work in Hollywood is usually a reflection of talent, but Kinnear’s roles are hit and miss for me.  I liked him in this one, though he got painfully obnoxious at times, but I didn’t care for him too much in The Matador or You’ve Got Mail.

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As Good As It Gets was a film that I had no strong feelings for or against the first time I watched it.  I thoroughly enjoyed it this time around though.  Though the overarching story (grumpy guy goes soft) is a tad cliché, this film is set apart because of an entertaining and fun story, along with two strong leads who bring it to life.  I’m now going back and forth about whether to buy it or not.  I’d highly recommend this one for Nicholson fans, it’s one of his best performances in my opinion.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

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