As Good as It Gets Review

(3.5 STARS)

“As Good As It Gets” is kind of like a romantic comedy in reverse. Most films in this genre follow a strict formula, and while this is no different in that respect, the formula itself is turned upside-down. You know in most romantic comedies that moment in which all the characters’ feelings are put on the table and we don’t know if they are going to make it? “As Good As It Gets” is basically two-plus hours of those moments, and while that might sound unpleasant, the result is actually thoroughly enjoyable, thanks primarily to brilliant performances all around.

Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is an asshole. There’s no other way to put it. His bad attitude could rival that of Ebenezer Scrooge. Melvin is a racist homophobe who also suffers from crippling OCD. He uses a new bar of soap every time he washes his hands and he brings his own plastic silverware whenever he goes to his favorite restaurant.

Melvin’s spends most of his time alone – the way he likes it – but for better or worse, he has two people in his life, both of whom are disgusted by him. The first is his homosexual neighbor, Simon (Greg Kinnear). The two are like oil and water, especially after Melvin tosses Simon’s beloved dog down their building’s trash chute. One day, Simon is brutally attacked in his home, so Melvin is forced to care for the dog while Simon recovers. He grows to love the dog. It’s presumably the first time Melvin opens his heart to anyone or anything, and after that, we know there’s no turning back.

The other person in Melvin’s life is Carol (Helen Hunt), the waitress at his favorite restaurant. Carol is as sharp as she is attractive, and she’s the only one who can keep Melvin in line. When he makes an inappropriate comment about her sick son, she tells him if he ever says anything about her son, she won’t let him into the restaurant again. As Melvin’s heart begins to warm up, his feelings toward Carol, and Simon, become noticeably more pleasant.

The film’s three biggest assets are Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear (the fourth biggest asset is Simon’s dog, possibly the cutest in cinematic history). All three were recognized with Oscar nominations; Nicholson and Hunt took home trophies. In many ways, this role is typical for Nicholson. He’s loud and in-your-face. He’s also lucky enough to have some really cutting lines. But he’s also very vulnerable. He doesn’t really know how to act with others, which make his many screw-ups with Carol all the more emotional. It’s a hard thing to pull off having a character so disgusting on the surface actually be likeable. But Nicholson does it. The Oscar was well-deserved.

Hunt’s role is actually similar in some respects. She has a hard exterior, but is also really vulnerable, especially when it comes to her son. She doesn’t have as much a challenge as Nicholson, for her character is immediately and consistently likable. But that doesn’t diminish the strength of the performance. Hunt does a tremendous job, and like Nicholson’s, her award was warranted.

Greg Kinnear’s Simon is also excellent. He’s a seemingly happy man who undergoes a crisis and is forced to watch his world fold in around him. He becomes so desperate he is forced to lean on Melvin, and despite all of their previous confrontations, Simon tries to give Melvin the benefit of the doubt. He’s quite sympathetic, but not one-dimensional. He was nominated for an Oscar but unfortunately lost out to Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting.”

Director James L. Brooks, best known for creating “The Simpsons,” has devoted most of his film career to writing and directing adult-focused comedies filled with famous faces (like “Spanglish” and “Terms of Endearment”), and he has another scheduled to come out later this year. This is easily the best of the bunch. It’s a tad too long, but the strength of the performances is enough to make this a beyond worthwhile watch.

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