As Good as It Gets (1997)

Posted: August 30, 2013 in Favorite Films
Tags: , , , , ,

32. As Good as It Gets (1997)

Director: James L. Brooks

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

The thing about Jack Nicholson is, no matter whether he’s the protagonist or the villain, Nicholson seems to always be Nicholson. Even when starring as the Joker in 1989’s “Batman,” he still somehow seems to be playing an extension of himself. This is not a criticism against the man. Nicholson is one of the greatest on-screen or off-screen personalities we’re ever likely to see from Hollywood. It’s also not to say he’s never tried anything different. In “As Good as It Gets,” he brings to life my very favorite of all of his characters.

Melvin Udall is a man so bereft of anything resembling happiness that his only defense mechanism is to tear others down, especially his gay neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear). He is a best-selling author who is very good at getting into the hearts and minds of his female characters, yet almost completely incapable of carrying on a conversation with a woman without finding a way to insult her. Melvin also suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. He has a cabinet filled top to bottom with bars of soap still in their plastic wrap, and yet each one will be thrown in the garbage after just one use. The same goes for any pair of gloves he ever buys. He is meticulous about the locks on his apartment door. Stepping on cracks on the sidewalk are a no-no, and lord help you if you brush against him as you pass him by. Even when it comes to eating out, Melvin is very particular. Only the one restaurant will do, and he eats there often enough that everyone who works there is prone to gasping, “Oh, God!” when he walks in. The only waitress who he wants to serve his food, and the only one who doesn’t question his use of plastic silverware, is Carol (Helen Hunt).

A woman who appears to be suffocating under the weight of her everyday life, Carol still forges ahead as best she knows how. Carol is the single mother of an asthmatic boy, whose staggering medical bills are the chief reason for her employment at the restaurant. Relationships with men are hard to come by, as none seem to want to stick around for the long haul. At work, she will tolerate a lot of abuse from Melvin Udall when no one else will, but she’ll be damned if he’ll ever get away with throwing an insult in her son’s direction. When Melvin does the unthinkable by hiring for Carol’s son the best doctor that money can buy and paying for all the expenses, Carol’s conscience (“This can’t be right! CON-SCIENCE?!”) goes into overdrive and she is compelled to thank this man who has no idea how to accept a compliment.

Simon is a man who seems to have his entire life in order despite a sad childhood. Cast out by his father, Simon grew up to be a very talented painter, but one day he picks the wrong guy to model for him. Simon walks in on the guy’s friends in the process of robbing his home, and they commence to beating him up so badly that he is put in the hospital and requires stitches. Bills piling on top of bills, Simon now faces the facts that the only people he can turn to are the parents who disowned him because of his sexual preference, and the man across the hall who belittles him at every turn for the car ride to get him there. Melvin doesn’t like the idea of chaperoning Simon all the way from New York to Baltimore alone, so he drafts Carol to come along.

“As Good as It Gets” won Oscars for Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress (Helen Hunt) which, to date, makes it the most recent film to sweep both categories. I’d have also thrown in my vote for Best Supporting Actor (Greg Kinnear, for which he was nominated) as well as Best Picture but, alas, nothing was going to beat “Titanic” that year. For my two cents, the great Jack Nicholson has never been better. The Baltimore sequence drags a little, but features my favorite Jack Nicholson line, as well as my favorite line in any romantic comedy. Melvin and Carol are on a dinner date. Melvin has said the wrong thing, and Carol has insisted that Melvin pay her a compliment or else she’s going to get up and leave right then and there. Then out come the words that surprise even him. The movie ends on a high note, as you would normally expect from a romantic comedy. Yet considering the kind of person we’ve seen Melvin to be, you can’t help but wonder how long it’ll take him to say the wrong thing again. The truth is, that doesn’t matter. He’s already experienced more growth in this short span than in his entire life, and that has to count for something.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s