As Good as It Gets is a 1997 comedy directed by James L. Brooks starring Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. It was a success at the US box office and both the leading actors won an Oscar for their performances in the film, something that doesn’t happen that often (in fact, it hasn’t happened again, yet, and it’s 2020 already!). In short, this is a beloved movie film considered by many a classic romantic comedy.
Well, I don’t particularly love this movie (maybe… I think). I don’t deny that many elements of it work perfectly, though! Let me start from the plot and I will eventually get there. Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is a misanthropist, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and obsessive compulsive person who also happens to be a successful writer. He eats every day in the same restaurant where he always sits at the same table and pretends to be served by the same waitress, Carol (Helen Hunt). He’s also the neighbor of a homosexual artist, Simon (Greg Kinnear), who one day is robbed and beaten by three youngsters (two of them starred three years earlier in Scream: Skeet Ulrich and Jamie Kennedy), and for this reason he must take care of his dog for a few weeks (forced by a friend of Simon played by Cuba Gooding Jr.).
Melvin also hates dogs, because why not, but he slowly becomes attached to this one and things begin to change… Or rather, this is what the canons of the romantic comedy would have us believe! In reality, Melvin remains the same selfish, racist misanthrope who was at the beginning of the film. But he starts to become friend with Simon who’s gradually recovering his strength and vitality after the attack, and above all he falls in love with Carol. But he’s so incapable of establishing interpersonal relationships that he writes about so well in his books that he does everything in his power to sabotage the love story that for mysterious reasons Carol pursues with all her might.
Jack Nicholson is undeniably the strength of the movie. He was sixty years old when he starred in this and he still had an exceptional charisma, as well as his usual skills already demonstrated over and over again during a career that began in the late fifties (one of his first works was with Roger Corman in The Little Shop of Horrors, 1960). In As Good as It Gets, he can can give free rein to the Joker who’s in him and his dark humor works great. His character is perfect for laughing or smiling (I remind you that most of his lines are nowhere near political correctness), but it’s hard to be empathic with him and hope that his story with Carol will go well! In other words, at the end of the film, in the classic scene where she no longer wants to see him and then he goes to her house and they live happily ever after (99% of romantic comedies end with this cliche), I wondered why the character of Helen Hunt wanted to begin a clearly toxic relationship with this despicable person whose only recently acquired quality was adoring a dog.
There’s one thing to say: the title is As Good as It Gets. In this perspective, the film is, in fact, honest: it doesn’t idealize the relationship between the characters. Rather, it presents a love story between a desperate woman (with a sick son, Jesse James, for which she cannot pay the necessary treatments because she’s poor and she lives in a tiny apartment with her mother…) and a disgusting rich man who conquers her by paying the medical expenses for her son. Hey, if I put it like that the film film is smarter than I thought! It turns out that it’s a realistic portrait of people willing to accept compromises of dubious morality to get by!
Not to mention the excellent cast: that in addition to the three protagonists, there are Harold Ramis, Shane Black (actor, screenwriter, director, occasionally during his absurd life he appeared in random roles such as this one in which he kicks Melvin out of the restaurant and gets an applause), Cuba Gooding Jr., the two guys from Scream mentioned above… And the director is one of the creators of The Simpsons! Hmm, should I rewrite the whole review from the beginning and praise the movie all along? No, no, there’s no need for that.
Instead, let me conclude by saying that the film works as a comedy, but its romantic side should perhaps be taken as an intelligent and ironic reinterpretation of the classic romantic comedy in which the grumpy / unpleasant / selfish guy changes to conquer the beloved girl. Here, he doesn’t change much but he conquers her all the same by using money and exploiting her weakness. That’s the American dream! Ciao!
PS: as a European, the scene in which Melvin sends the private doctor to Carol’s house is really painful to watch, with money used to buy her son’s health due to the lack of a universal health care system. Impressive!