Film Scouts Reviews

"As Good As It Gets"

by Karen Jaehne

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The crazier Nicholson gets, the better his movies get. In the role of a writer who says the first thing that comes to mind - and what a mind! - Melvin Udall has a kind of ethical Tourette syndrome. He behaves badly. It's not vicious, nor does he take pleasure in it. It's pathological. (It's actually Jack, the failure from The Shining, as a successful writer).

As Melvin's neighbor says, "The best thing you have going for you is your willingness to humiliate yourself." The great thing about Melvin is that he doesn't know he is humiliated, nor that he embarrasses others with his uncensored remarks.

Helen Hunt plays the understanding waitress, who is the single mother of an asthmatic little boy. Her fears are very realistically portrayed - which in a movie appear to be excessive, smothering concern (but not to anybody who's had to live with asthma). In fact, it's the realism of the film that makes it so appealing. The offbeat quality of the script seems designed - or, rather, undesigned and unstructured. It's the kind of thing we admire in independent or debut films, before the talented young filmmaker has been turned into a hack by development executives. This must be the side of James L. Brooks that spawned The Simpsons series.

The jabs at the medical establishment and HMO's got enormous laughs in the audience of regulars I was in. In fact, the woman behind me had a braying laugh, and she never shut up. Either this is good news for the filmmakers, or they paid her to be a living laugh track.

The point of "As Good As It Gets" is the very grown-up lesson in life: being friends with someone who half-way understands you is as good as it gets, so don't abuse the friendship. Don't take it for granted. Greg Kinnear makes an unlikely but very lucky - i.e., successful - painter who loses everything, after one of his models tries a little larceny, and Greg gets maimed. Worse, he loses his spirit and inspiration to paint. Even Cuba Gooding, Jr. - ("Show me the money!") - abandons him, because the money's running out on the painter.

Watching them all recover their relationships, rejoin, and rejoice is a good holiday experience. This is worth seeing. Worth appreciating. And worth an Oscar for the writers.  

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