Here’s that rarest of treats – a genuinely funny, sincere and moving ‘rom-com’ (and I normally hate the genre), with Oscar-winning performances from Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. Seriously, though, what more could you ask for?
It probably comes as no surprise to learn that director James L. Brooks (he of The Simpsons and Terms of Endearment (1983) fame) is at the helm here; few, if any, directors seem to have his knack for believable, witty dialogue and credible characterizations in the too-often cliched romantic comedy arena, and he is helped enormously by co-writer Mark Andrus (Georgia Rule (2007)).
And with As Good as It Gets (1997), Brooks does not miss a trick – we are immediately introduced to the bitter, twisted world of succesful romantic author Melvin Udall (Nicholson), an obsessive-compulsive misanthrope who has little time for anyone or anything, least of all the dog belonging to his gay artist neighbour Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), whom he initially dumps in the garbage chute at the film’s outset. It’s a tough little hound, though, as we are soon to learn – and we also learn, soon enough, that Udall may well have the beginnings of a soft spot for local waitress and single mother Carol Connelly (an excellent, tender and sexy Helen Hunt), who is just about the only person who’s prepared to put up with Melvin’s excesses, and on whom he relies to provide some order in his day by serving him breakfast.
But, when Carol is forced to quit her job to look after her sickly child, Melvin’s world is thrown into turmoil and, in reaching out a helping hand to Carol and Simon, begins to realise just how much he is missing out on…
The film’s joy lies in the fact that, thanks to the excellent performances all round, with Nicholson leading the field as the man with whom you *don’t* want to banter and the witty but frequently very poignant verbal exchanges that are at the story’s core, we are more than prepared to play ball as viewers with the set-up’s more unlikely aspects.
And Nicholson et al in full flow are simply delightful. To wit:
Melvin: Where do they teach you to talk like this? In some Panama City ‘Sailor wanna hump-hump’ bar, or is it getaway day and your last shot at his whiskey? Sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.
And, of course:
Receptionist: I can’t resist! You usually move through here so quickly and I just have so many questions I want to ask you. You have no idea what your work means to me.
Melvin: What does it mean to you?
Receptionist: [stands up] When somebody out there knows what it’s like…
[place one hand on her forehead and the other over her heart]
Receptionist: … to be in here.
Melvin: Oh God, this is like a nightmare.
[Turns around and presses the elevator button multiple times]
Receptionist: Oh come on! Just a couple of questions. How hard is that?
[Scampers up to Melvin]
Receptionist: How do you write women so well?
Melvin: I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.
But not forgetting:
Simon Bishop: Is this fun for you? You lucky devil. It just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it? I’m losing my apartment, Melvin. And Frank, he wants me to beg my parents, who haven’t called me, for help. And I won’t. And…I…I don’t want to paint any more. So the life that I was trying for, is over. The life that I had is gone, and I’m feeling so damn sorry for myself that it’s difficult to breathe. Lucky for you…you’re here for rock-bottom. You absolute horror of a human being.
If those three extracts don’t tell you all you need to know about why you must see this film, I’m wasting my time here. Enjoy, that’s all there is to it.