Wednesday, October 30, 2013

As Good As It Gets (1997)

As Good As It Gets"As Good As It Gets" is a rarity among today's movies, a truly witty and poignant romantic comedy with an unusual protagonist. That protagonist is Melvin, played with relish by Jack Nicholson. Melvin is a highly successful novelist who is also an abrasive misanthrope suffering from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Not your typical hero for sure!)

As one would expect, Melvin is a recluse and resistant to any changes in his life until he is forced to interact with a down-on-his-luck gay neighbor, Simon, portrayed by Greg Kinnear, and Simon's perky little pet pooch, Verdell. Melvin also becomes reluctantly involved with the pretty and patient waitress Carol, played by Helen Hunt, who serves him breakfast every day at a local cafe. Other than Carol, none of the other cafe's employees will deal with the impossible Melvin.

When Carol abruptly quits her job, Melvin tracks her down and offers her financial incentives to return to her post. Melvin increasingly finds himself drawn into Carol's personal life, and he eventually falls for the plucky single mom.

"As Good As It Gets" is a quirky update of the fable "Beauty and the Beast". Gifted writer-director James L. Brooks has assembled a superb cast to re-tell this classic tale. Besides the pitch perfect lead performances by Nicholson, Hunt, and Kinnear, there are sparkling supporting performances by Cuba Gooding Jr., Shirley Knight and others.

Too many of today's so-called comedies are mindless, uninspired concoctions profuse with sophomoric vulgarities and sexual obscenities. "As Good As It Gets" reminds us that there are still a few determined filmmakers willing to bring qualities such as intelligence, inventiveness, sophistication, and charm back to the silver screen. It is a shame that there are not more artists like these to inspire and entertain much-deprived audiences.

Another reviewer comments that the events in this film conspire to make Jack Nicholson (or rather Melvyn Udall) a human being. On the contrary, this is a film where the central character, an obsessive-compulsive bigot, is human from the start: We just don't realize it. A key moment in the film is when Simon, Melvin's gay neighbour (Greg Kinnear), is telling the young male prostitute, Vincent (Skeet Ulrich), about his art, and comments that he likes to watch people because sometimes, when you look at someone long enough, "you see their humanity." At that point Vincent is momentarily enabled to see something beyond the seedy world of male prostitution; at the same time Simon gives us the interpretive key to the whole movie. It is a film about three very different people who discover their common humanity.

Melvin is a hateful and insensitive recluse with a debilitating mental disorder; Carol (Helen Hunt), a Manhattan waitress struggling with her son's chronic illness and finding her identity swallowed up in the process; Simon, a gay artist who loses everything when he is attacked and robbed in his own home. One by one they must learn to see the humanity in each other and, as importantly, in themselves ("Where'd I go?" asks Simon as he looks at the reflection of his battered face in the mirror). We, too, must learn to see the human being underneath the spiteful and vicious (if somewhat the "loveable rogue") in Melvin.

The theme is developed sensitively and beautifully throughout the course of the film (perhaps only slightly overlong at more than two hours), with help coming from a fourth character, Verdelle, a dog, whose pivotal role in the narrative is easily overlooked (standing in the same cinematic tradition as Toto of "The Wizard of Oz"). By the end of the film, we are aware that the big issues in the character's lives are still to be totally overcome, but the process of resolution has begun as it should, with the characters each recognizing the dignity and worth of the others (and themselves).

James L. Brook's delicate direction carefully avoids excessive sentimentalism and saccharine sweetness (though admittedly, it teeters perilously close to the edge at times), and results in one of the most charming and profound comedies of recent years.

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And that my friends is a rarity. I'm new to the 'As Good as it Gets' fanclub sort-a-speak since I, for the first time, saw it last night despite the fact that my wife HATES the movie and was pissed I rented it. I have always been a fan of Jack Nicholson for he has been on top of his game for YEARS and doesn't show any sign of letting up anytime soon (I mean, he's won 3 oscars and has been nominated 12 times). I've also always enjoyed Hunt and Kinnear so it's a shoe-in for me to enjoy this film right? I just for some reason have never had the desire to see it, and then there I was walking through the local blockbuster thinking, you know what, I'll just go for it, and I'm so glad I did. Right off the bat Nicholson is at his best playing the grumpy old man, but he always adds just the right amount of class and confidence to lift him from Walter Matthau status and place him in the Michael Caine league. Nicholson plays Melvin, an obsesive compulsive racist bigot sexist grump of a man who is hated by everyone and very well may like it that way. He lives in the same apartment complex as Simon (Kinnear) a gay painter who is the subject of Melvin's vented anger (which is displayed by his constant verbal battery of poor Simon and the abuse he inflicts of Simon's dog) but after Simon is beaten and injured Melvin is pusuaded (a bit forcfully) to take care of Simon's dog. Unexpectedly Melvin forms an attachment to the dog and is somehow changed by his experience and moved to be a nicer, better person. He starts by helping a local waitress Carol (Hunt) who may just be the only person who tolerates him. Carol & Melvin & Simon throughout the remander of the film form a bond that is both unexpected and remarkably beautiful. Helen Hunt is wonderful in this film, as is Kinnear, but it's Nicholson's show and there isn't a better man for the show. I have never watched a performance that made me more anxious then watching Nicholson say the WRONG thing everytime, but as Carol realizes, he has his moments, and those moments are about as good as it gets.

Read Best Reviews of As Good As It Gets (1997) Here

I hate to admit it, but I've never been a fan of Jack Nicholson.

Also, I've never been smitten with the lovely Helen Hunt.

Lastly, Greg Kinnear has always been REALLY too smarmy for me.

However, somehow AS GOOD AS IT GETS has a special place in my heart.

Nicholson is absolutely fabulous as the neurotic writer who, due to circumstances wildly beyond his control, has to not so much step outside of his comfort zone as he has to destroy the barriers that have isolated him from society when the people that make up the routine of his life -eating at the corner restaurant, pestering the gay neighbors -start to come apart at the seams. The crusty exterior, we learn, is just a facade, and the man underneath -while not perfect -accepts that life is worth living ... as good as it gets.

Helen Hunt is absolutely radiant in the role as the corner shop waitress who's forced to deal with Nicholson's habits ... and, much to her surprise and the audience, she begins to experience true emotion for the man.

Greg Kinnear plays the struggling artist role to perfection. He has bouts of great self-esteem countered by comic moments of heightened anxiety, and the subtlety he brings to his portrayal is may be all-too-Hollywood but is surprisingly human.

A perfect mix, this film is about AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

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I'm not a fan of the romantic comedy genre, and I winced a bit when my wife suggested this movie, but I'd be lying if I said anything other than I very much enjoyed it.

I figured Jack Nicholson would draw me into the story. I can't say I'm a big Jack Nicholson fan, but I always seem to become quickly interested in movies that he stars in. Perhaps I'm just a Jack Nicholson fan in denial.

Helen Hunt to me is the driving force behind this movie. I do think I became a Helen Hunt fan. No denial there.

However, what makes the whole thing work is the supporting cast. Everyone is good. We've even got Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson! Then there's the dog; perhaps the cutest ugly dog ever.

Anyway, unlike others I doubt I'll watch this movie again, but I'm sure glad I saw it once. Not quite "as good as it gets" for me in terms of movies, but way way better than I thought it would be.

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