The Title Says It All


As Good As It Gets (1997) Review 5
Director:James Brooks,
Starring:Helen Hunt, Jack Nicholson, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr.
Length:139 minutes


Think of the most appalling person you’ve ever known and multiply that by a hundred, and you come up with Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson), an obsessive-compulsive, misanthropic, mean old bigot bastard. He tip toes his way down busy streets desperately trying to avoid touching both people and cracks in the concrete. He feels threatened by black people, has a disdain for Jews, despises his gay neighbor’s cute little dog (and his gay neighbor for that matter), and has a knack for verbally dismantling anyone stupid enough to try to talk to him. Doesn’t really sound like your classic good guy, does he? In fact, the only person in New York he seems to like is Carol (Helen Hunt), waitress of the only restaurant in New York City Melvin can tolerate going to. She’s probably the only person in the entire world that can handle him, and she’s everything he’s not. She’s kind, warm, loving, and a single mom, left to take care of her very sick son with her very meager paychecks. Then there’s Simon (Greg Kinnear), the last member of this nutty trio of New Yorkers in which the story revolves. He’s Melvin’s gay artist neighbor who suffers through a near death robbing and beating early on which destroys his entire career. And thus have you the foundation for this somewhat off beat, yet truly touching film.

We all carry around emotional baggage that can sometimes seem overwhelming. Sometimes it has to do with our careers, sometimes it has to do with loved ones we must take care of, and sometimes it’s just ourselves. And as it is with life, you either remedy the problem, or you let it get worse. The story of As Good As It Gets is a very simplistic one, yet the characters involved are very complex, and very…well…real. Initially, each of the trio seems to fit in some kind of category. For Melvin Udall, Carol puts it best: “He’s a freak show! He’s the worst person I ever met.” Yet underneath that crusty, ultra-cynical, mean-spirited outer shell he uses to push people away, there lies a man so in need of friendship that he cries when the dog he’s sitting is taken back. Carol is the beautiful and witty waitress with whom Melvin has a crush on. But what most people don’t see is that she’s a rapidly aging single mother 30-something waitress, whose personal life has been severely hampered by having to room with her mother and take care of her sick son. And thanks to an Oscar-worthy performance by Helen Hunt, Carol is the heart and soul of the film. Simon is Melvin’s used-to-be-successful gay artist neighbor, who after experiencing a horrific near death experience, has only his cute little dog Verdell going for him. But as fate can be a wonderful thing, the three embark on a road trip together that will change their lives forever.

James L. Brooks manages to weave a tale that’s as realistic as any film I’ve ever seen, and that realism is what makes As Good As It Gets so touching. It is ultimately a story about everyday people who learn that sometimes the ones you can’t live with, become the ones you can’t live without. They learn that friendship and love can heal even the deepest of wounds and can see you through the darkest of times. Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear play real people with real problems, which makes their performances that much more powerful. The film is very fragile, straddling the line between hilarious and offensive, and that’s where Nicholson takes over. His multi-layered performance forces us to hang on to the edge, and but is strong enough to pull us back in. There’s a scene between Hunt and Nicholson which captures the film’s message perfectly. In it, Carol, after being severely insulted by Melvin at an upscale restaurant, point blank asks Melvin to pay her a complement. He looks deep into her eyes and responds, “You make me want to be a better man.” And you know what? That’s exactly what it does to you.