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.
Good as It Gets (1999)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and
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.
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.
the end of the credits, the disclaimer "The actors in this film
were in no way mistreated" appears. (Source: The
Internet Movie Database)