"As Good As It Gets" is the latest comedy from writer-director James L. Brooks, whose previous work includes "Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News". And though this film is unnecessarily convoluted and seems to go on a little too long, it still manages to entertain with snappy dialogue and the performance of its central player, Jack Nicholson.
How do you write women so well?
I think of a man, and then take away reason and accountability.
The opening scene tells you everything you want to know about Melvin Udall (Nicholson): angered by a neighbor's dog urinating where it shouldn't, Melvin throws the dog down the apartment building's garbage chute. He is the neighbor from hell, who doesn't give a damn about the consequences of his actions and is able to put even the most well-tempered person into the foulest of moods. He is an accomplished writer working on his sixty-second book, though he is impeded by an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself in his scathing disposition and saucy smart-ass comments (that only Jack Nicholson could deliver in his malicious yet delicious manner). One door down from him lives Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear, who's still looking for a career after "Dear God"), a gay painter who happens to be the owner of the dog. Once a day, he makes a ritualistic trip out into the 'filthy' city of New York to eat breakfast at a restaurant where he torments the staff, particularly the only waitress that can tolerate serving him, Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt).
When Simon is hospitalized after being beaten during a robbery, Simon's art dealer, Frank Sachs (Cuba Gooding Jr. in his first role since "Jerry Maguire"), threatens Melvin into looking after Simon's dog. At first, Melvin is reluctant to allow the animal into his immaculate apartment, but soon his cold heart is defrosted by his new houseguest.
This then serves as the catalyst for further acts of random kindness, including the arrangement of first-class medical care for Carol's asthmatic son (wait a minute... single mom... sick son... a man who can't express himself... sounds like "Jerry Maguire" all over again!). At first, he is motivated purely out of self-interest (since Carol's son illness took a downturn, she has been off work, and none of the other waitresses want to even get near him), but soon he finds that he actually has fostered an emotional attachment. And gradually, as he becomes more intertwined in the lives of Simon and Carol, all three main characters learn overcome their own self-imposed isolation.
You made me want to be a better man.
Though the well-paced script balances out the poignancy with the comedy, as a narrative, it is at times meandering and incoherent. Characters are introduced and then quickly forgotten, exemplified by the shortchanging of Gooding's character, who only shows up to act as a bridge between the different acts of the story. Another troubling aspect of AGAIG are the muddled motivations of each character, which seem to flip from scene to scene-- for example, Hunt's character undergoes this multiple-personality disorder during a contrived road trip sequence in the final third of the film, with her actions adhering to the demands of the plot at the expense of the consistency of her character. And while Melvin is a great 'fish out of water' comic character, he is not given any background to explain why he is so abrupt and abrasive-- the one scene where any exposition is attempted on Melvin's background is cut-off abruptly for the sake of laughs.
The saving grace for AGAIG is in the area of strong performances by Nicholson and Hunt. Melvin is a role that very few actors other than Nicholson could pull off, especially with such relish, and this film is worthwhile just for to see him spout off the numerous one-liners. Hunt, despite the limitations of the script, is endearing as Carol, able to span the range between the comic and the tender moments, exuding both vulnerability and conviction.
"As Good As It Gets", despite a messy script and overbearing length, is an enjoyable film that emanates sentiments consistent with the holiday season. As a fellow moviegoer said to me, "It's a perfect Christmas movie"-- the type of movie that will put a grin on your face and warm you up inside.
People who speak in metaphors should shampoo my crotch.