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The gruff Melvin Udall has clear OCD
And acts like a jerk, as the world can agree.
He relocks his door and wastes way too much soap
And proves he’s a prejudiced, vain misanthrope.
He won’t step on cracks and is hooked on routine
And mistreats his neighbor’s dog just to be mean.
This neighbor named Simon is artsy and gay
And bears Melvin’s insults with patient dismay.
One day, after painting, his subject’s own chums
Beat Simon and rob him and run for the slums.
While Simon recovers, old Melvin is pressed
To care for his dog as an unwanted guest.
He deals with this change with unspoken objection,
But soon he can’t hide from the dog his affection.
Yet he’s at a loss and almost goes berserk
When his favorite waitress can’t come into work.
He pulls many strings so she’ll come and be done
With worrying for her young asthmatic son.
His reasons for helping her seem oh so strange,
And his jerk-ish tendencies still do not change.
Though Carol is flustered, unsure what to think,
She gives him her thanks, while refusing to sink.
He ends up agreeing to drive Simon out
To speak to his parents for money, no doubt.
Convincing poor Carol to join the stiff pair,
He plans out the trip, and they somehow get there.
An unforeseen date doesn’t go quite as planned,
Thanks mostly to how Melvin’s mouth should be banned,
But Simon is given a new lease on life
When Carol’s nude poses help banish his strife.
Back home, Melvin lets Simon move in with him;
The dog sure seems happy, though friendship’s still slim.
While Carol mulls leaving mean Melvin behind,
He proves that there’s hope, since she’s such a great find.
Though Melvin’s not perfect and often remiss,
The two of them go out for rolls and a kiss.

As Good As It Gets is not your typical romantic comedy. All three of the main characters have some definite problems that persist through most of the film and threaten to give it “too much reality” for a film meant to make us smile and laugh. The main character Melvin Udall is far from likable and spends almost the entire movie giving the audience new reasons to scream “What a jerk!”

This Triple A film largely depends on the actors’ performances, and they don’t disappoint. Jack Nicholson was perfectly cast as Melvin, and he has that selfish, get-out-of-my-face attitude down pat. The idiosyncrasies he embraces, such as avoiding cracks on the ground and using plastic silverware, make his obsessive-compulsive disorder remarkably believable. Since he’s a writer, his barbed insults possess dumbfounding eloquence that make it hard for anyone to respond as robustly. Though he’s a bigot and the kind of person who causes people to cheer when he’s kicked out of a restaurant, he still retains some degree of humanity that we as the audience can see better than the characters can. His growing relationship with Verdell, Simon’s adorable Brussels Griffon, illustrates how pets can fill a vacuum in someone’s life and is practically a romance in itself. Helen Hunt is also amazingly persuasive as Carol the waitress, whose seemingly superficial interactions with the misanthrope literally make his day. Her mixed feelings about Melvin’s assistance for her son aren’t fully elaborated on, but that’s obviously because she herself does not know how to put them into words, even in an 18-page letter. Both of them definitely deserved the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars that year, making this the most recent film to earn both major acting awards. Greg Kinnear is also excellent as Simon, whose life implodes in a most pitiful way. He was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor that year, but his performance was dwarfed by that of Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting. Cuba Gooding, Jr., Shirley Knight, and the late Harold Ramis also fill memorable supporting roles.

While the script is exceptional, there’s some unfortunate language, mostly from Helen Hunt, and quite a bit of rude and sexual dialogue, but the filmmakers could have made it much worse. I find it interesting that both this film and Titanic (which won most of the awards that year) shared a nude portrait scene, though this one hid it a bit better. Despite all the realism, As Good As It Gets manages some natural, awkward humor which lightens the mood but never turns it into a laugh-fest. Most of it stems from Melvin’s own rudeness and his “willingness to humiliate himself.” By the end, no one’s sure if he’s come far enough to begin a real relationship, but he’s begun spouting actual compliments so he’s at least trying. In a film that brings such real personal problems to the screen, that’s enough to leave me smiling.

Best line: (Simon, describing how he paints) “If you stare at someone long enough, you discover their humanity.”

VC’s best line: (Melvin’s inaugural compliment) “You make me want to be a better man.”

Artistry: 9
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 9
Watchability: 9
Other (Nicholson’s spot-on delivery): +4
Other (language, sexual dialogue, near-nudity): -2
TOTAL: 47 out of 60

Next: #155 – Tangled

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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