Bad Jack is a Good Jack
Whilst Jack Nicholson may be more famous for serious dramas such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and his legendary status as a womanizer, he is remarkably adept when it comes to romantic comedies. In "Something's Gotta Give" he was brilliant as Harry Sanborn and Nicholson is equally brilliant in "As Good as it Gets" as the less than diplomatic Melvin Udall who wins our hearts as he transforms his life. But "As Good as it Gets" is not your run of the mill romcom, adding an element of drama to the storyline which makes it about more than just two people falling for each other. It's not perfect and at over 2 hours is much longer than maybe it needs be but it is a surprisingly engaging movie which makes you want to get to the end and see how things turn out.
In "As Good as it Gets" Jack Nicholson is Melvin Udall an OCD suffering novelist whose homophobic, racist and sexist attitude offends pretty much everyone he meets, not that he cares. But when his neighbour Simon (Greg Kinnear - Ghost Town) is hospitalized after being beaten up, Melvin is forced to look after his dog Verdell, the catalyst for the purposefully offensive Melvin to start changing his ways with the help of Carol (Helen Hunt - Twister) the waitress at his regular restaurant who tolerates his offensive behaviour.
Let me get my main gripe out of the way with when it comes to "As Good as it Gets" and that is at 133 minutes it is a long movie. Now I am not opposed to long movies, especially those which tell an epic storyline, but the storylines in "As Good as it Gets", and there are more than one, are not epic. The reason why it's too long is that it tries to merge two storylines together, somewhat successfully it has to be said, but in doing so there is more going on than what is probably needed. It's strange because it never drags its feet or ponders for too long, switching between the various story elements beautifully, but when it finishes you are glad it has and you feel like you have sat through every minute of a long but worthwhile movie.
Anyway, enough of the griping as other than it's length "As Good as it Gets" is a remarkably gratifying movie, definitely better than your run of the mill romcom, due to the fact that it's not just a romcom but also a tale of redemption a sort of "A Christmas Carol" without being a Christmas movie or featuring ghosts from the pasts. That probably sounds strange but it works as we basically follow the character of Melvin who when we are introduced to him is as mean as Cruella De Ville with his willingness to put a small but cute dog down a garbage shoot as well as a line in racist, sexist and generally offensive comments to whoever gets in his way. But then we basically go on a journey with him where his character changes as he finds a nice side to himself which inadvertently affects those around him such as Carol the waitress who tolerates his strange behaviour and his neighbour Simon the artist who Melvin refers to as Simon 'the fag'.
It's these two characters which add a further dimension to "As Good as it Gets" and we get an unlikely love story as well as one of understanding when it comes to Simon. It certainly is a lot for one movie to take in and as each of these sides of the movie has their own sub stories, Carol's sick son and Simon's depression there is never a moment where "As Good as it gets" runs out of story to explore. It's the main reason why it is long because the stories are remarkably well rounded and are not there just as ineffectual padding, even the sub story of Carol's sick son is actually pivotal to the main storyline.
What is surprising is that on one hand we have grumpy Melvin, a man who suffers from OCD as well as being overly offensive with his acid tongue, but he is also strangely likeable. When he berates a couple of Jews in a restaurant for sitting in his usual place you know that what he says is wrong but the delivery of Jack Nicholson actually makes it amusing, you sort of accept it because you know that Melvin is an un-pc eccentric who in reality means no one any harm. It is very much down to Nicholson's portrayal of Melvin Udall which makes "As Good as it Gets" work so well, Nicholson is perfect when it comes to the straight talking meanness but is equally good when it comes to the transformed character, because there is a little bit of prickliness simmering underneath, that you get a sense that although he is trying to be a better person he could let rip with something nasty in the blink of an eye. It makes the transformation more real and the fact that Melvin is in fact quite insecure despite the facade he puts up makes it a fascinating character.
As well as Jack Nicholson you also get Helen Hunt who is tremendous as Carol the waitress who tolerates Melvin's abuse and eccentricities but is also a multilayered character herself. Firstly you have this woman who tries to be nice even when it's hard, then you have the fact that she lives for her sick son, something which becomes apparent when he starts to feel better and she doesn't know what to do with herself. But you also get that tough side, that having had to work hard for everything and doesn't believe anything is free, even when help is offered. It's another wonderfully rounded character developed brilliantly by Helen Hunt to make her as interesting as that of Jack Nicholson's Melvin.
Then there is also Greg Kinnear as Simon the homosexual artist and again it is another character which is well developed so that it's not just padding but in many ways a movie in itself. But it is Kinnear's performance which really stands out as he really delivers the despair of losing control of your life without turning it into a dark morose character at odds with the rest of the movie as well as resisting the temptation to play Simon as overtly camp.
Separately Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear all work well, but together there performances are brilliant, sparking off each other to make for some memorably hilarious scenes. But what is really strange is that all three of them are outshone by Simon's pet dog Verdell (a Brussels Griffon) who's utterly adorable face and general cuteness steals every scene he appears in. Imagine that three Hollywood stars who put in very good performances being outshone by the acting of what is a very well trained and adorable dog.
What this all boils down to is that despite being overlong "As Good as it Gets" is still a remarkably entertaining movie. It manages to combine different storylines, merging them brilliantly together so none of them feel like padding, giving each enough material so that they could quite easily be a movie on their own. But it is the performances which make the movie so good from Jack Nicholson's homophobic Melvin, Greg Kinnear's fragile Simon through to the fiery Carol played by Helen Hunt and of course Verdell the dog they all work to make it entertaining and interesting.