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As Good as It Gets (1999)
Rated PG13

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

Jack Nicholson is well-known for playing less-than-stable people throughout his career. His turns as The Joker in Batman and tormented innkeeper Jack Torrance in The Shining are great examples of how far his characterizations can go. It's time to add his latest character, the obsessive-compulsive author Melvin Udall from As Good as It Gets, to that list.

Melvin lives in an apartment building with Simon (Greg Kinnear), a gay artist. Simon's dog, Verdell, thoroughly aggravates Melvin. Actually, just about everyone and every thing annoys Melvin and Melvin is completely abrasive to pretty much everyone in return.

Melvin's place of solitude is the restaurant where Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt) works. He brings his plastic tableware and orders eggs every day. Carol is the only waitress who will put up with Melvin's horrible manners and eccentric behavior. When Melvin makes a snide remark about Carol's asthmatic son, she threatens to kick him out of the restaurant. She forces him to rethink his comment and he manages a retraction.

When Simon is attacked and beaten by the friends of one of his street-smart models, Melvin is forced to babysit Verdell, the dog that aggravates him so much. Reluctantly, he finds that he enjoys the company of the dog. When Carol, the waitress, takes a day off from the restaurant to care for her son, Melvin also realizes that she is important to him too. In a rather unique series of events, Melvin finds himself helping both characters through difficult parts of their lives.

As Good as It Gets is the product of James L. Brooks, who's also responsible for such movies as Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment. Both of those films featured unique and strange characters and infused them with humanity. As Good as It Gets doesn't quite match the level of realism they achieved because the viewer is left to ponder exactly why Melvin acts the way he does toward Simon and Carol. There is no evident reason that I could find as to why Melvin suddenly feels obligated to help Simon in the way that he ends up doing. His relationship with Carol also seems to have an extremely shaky foundation to build upon. However, if you can roll with these flaws, it's hard not to enjoy yourself.

Nicholson's performance is the keystone of the film. Hunt and Kinnear also give strong performances, but even they play off of Nicholson. Kinnear even manages to mock Nicholson's persona by imitating Melvin several times in the film. A small role for Cuba Gooding, Jr., as Simon's art dealer, provides some interesting moments as well.

What holds the film together, though, are the strong characters and the great dialogue between them. It's not so much what happens to the characters, it's how they deal with it in conversations. While that might sound like it would make for a "talky" movie with no real direction, that's not the case here.

I got the feeling that As Good as It Gets might have made for a better movie had the script not attempted to arrive at a typical Hollywood ending. Still, the movie is well-worth seeing despite its minor flaws.

Trivia: Toward the end of the credits, the disclaimer "The actors in this film were in no way mistreated" appears. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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