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As Good As It Gets
1997 - PG-13 - 139 Mins.
Director: James L. Brooks
Producer: James L. Brooks, Bridget Johnson, Kristi Zea
Written By: Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Brian Doyle-Murray
Review by: John Ulmer
   

Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks got Oscars for playing weirdos--why shouldn't I?
"How do you rate women so well?" asks a flattered young lady after reading one of the man's sappy romantic paperback novels and recognizing his face on the street. He turns around, looks at her and says, "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability."

The secret of "As Good As It Gets" is its unconventional, and often times irreverent, view of the entire romance scene. It is centered solely on two people, Melvin (Jack Nicholson) and Carol (Helen Hunt). Melvin writes those corny romance novels you always manage to find tucked in between the fiction and non-fiction area of your local bookstore. You know, the kind that little old ladies like to read through at an incredible speed in an ill-fated hope to re-live moments of their past.

Melvin is a bit like Paul Sheldon, from Rob Reiner's "Misery," although I'm sure if he had been found by a murderous fan he would have been killed early on--he's incredibly blunt and annoying. He probably would have told Annie Wilkes what he thought of her from the get-go, not hesitating any more than he has to.

Melvin has obsessive-compulsive disorder, which basically means he goes through strange routines every time he does something, whether it means locking a door twice or not stepping on the cracks of a sidewalk (we all do that, sometimes). I recently read a new Steve Martin novella about a man with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it reminded me very much of "As Good As It Gets" and the Melvin character. Melvin is such a wacko that he pushes his gay neighbor's dog down the laundry chute after he finds it wandering around the hallway.

The gay man is played by Greg Kinnear. His name is Simon, and he has a small little dog he likes to call "precious." Simon is an artist, but when a band of kids wreck his apartment and beat him up, he is left with the realization that he hasn't enough money to keep his flat, and his boyfriend (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) may break up with him.

But the biggest worry of all is...what to do with his precious?

Frank, played by Gooding Jr., decides to give the dog to Melvin--who refuses at first but is left without any option but to obey. He soon achieves a certain subtle love for the beast, and when Simon has healed and comes back for the dog, it doesn't even want to leave. It even starts to develop nasty habits--like avoiding cracks in the sidewalk.

Meanwhile, a troubled single mother and a part-time waitress, Carol is constantly nagged by Melvin. Only she can deliver him food. Only she can take his order. Only she can kick him out of the restaurant. Mistaking this for some sort of sexual craving, she tells Melvin flat-out that she will never sleep with him. He doesn't seem to care. That had never even crossed his mind.

The fact is that Melvin is insufferably lonely. He likes to act as though he likes to be lonely, but the truth is that his loneliness is something he loathes. He would love to reach out and gain some friends--but he's too proud to humble himself in such a way. We all know people like Melvin--he just takes himself to a new extreme.

Melvin is surely one of the great screen characters of all time, ranking up there with Raymond "Rain Man" Babbitt and Forrest Gump as some of the most unique and likable inventions to ever grace the big screen. Nicholson presents his character in an especially effective way--at first he seems gruff, then he seems strange, then his soft side is revealed, and he slowly becomes the likable mean guy who lives upstairs and likes to try and kill neighbors' dogs.

Hunt won the Oscar for her work in "As Good As It Gets," but it was truly Nicholson who deserved it.

Regardless of all this, "As Good As It Gets" still stands alone as one of the cleverest romantic comedies of all time, and certainly one that both sexes can agree on. The film features some of the most memorable lines ever written on paper, the majority of them all coming from the lips of Melvin Udall, perfectly spoken by a typical gruff Jack Nicholson. They all come off as utterly hilarious and convincing. (Nicholson: "How old are you? If I would guess by your eyes, I'd say you're fifty." Hunt: "If I went by your eyes I'd say you were kind.")

This is the type of new-age romantic comedy that rivals the greatness of "When Harry Met Sally" or "Sleepless in Seattle." It's founded in its characters, their lives, their interaction, and how they learn to overcome their own personal obstacles and moral obligations. This film carries all the Autumn-time sweetness and cleverness of a Rob Reiner comedy, and all the lightness of a Frank Capra movie. It's a delightful blend of comedy and romance, and the type of redefining genre motion picture that "When Harry Met Sally" was eight years prior.

What a perfect, delightful movie.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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