1997 / Best Actor / Best Actress / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #371: As Good as it Gets (1997)

Jack Nicholson is an actor whose career we’ve followed over several decades during this challenge. This latest entry catches up with him in the late 1990s as he enters his later years playing a cantankerous novelist in As Good as it Gets.

The film, in which Nicholson plays the misanthropic Melvin Udall, sees the actor reunite with James L Brooks who he previously worked with on both Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News. Brooks’ film explores Melvin’s sheltered lifestyle as he tries to cope with OCD and attempts to deal with the world around him. The ironic thing is that Melvin’s novels inspire romance in others but he does little to ingratiate himself to those around him. In fact Melvin’s strongest relationship is with Carol, a waitress at his favourite diner who is seemingly the only person that will tolerate his madness. Meanwhile Melvin is forced into taking in the dog of his artist neighbour Simon and finds himself bonding with another living thing. When Carol leaves the diner to look after her ill son, Melvin reaches out to her and finds himself with a new friend in the process. The trio then head on a trip which has surprising consequences for all three while Melvin tries not to ruin the fact that he’s attempting to turn over a new leaf. What I like about the film is that, though Melvin’s OCD is a prevalent theme throughout, we never really feel sympathy for the man. However the disorder is represented perfectly by him skipping over the cracks in the road, a narrative device that plays into the final scene.

As Good as It Gets is currently the last film to have its stars win both the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars on the same evening. I certainly feel that Jack Nicholson’s award is more than deserved as he put in a really complex turn as Melvin. He uses his manic energy well but also comes into his own in the film’s more sensitive moments and, despite his antisocial nature, you can’t help but find him likeable. Previously best known for her television work, Helen Hunt is equally fantastic as the harassed waitress with the ill son. She gives a tender portrayal of a woman who tries to help those around her and has always put herself last. Nicholson and Hunt are fantastic together and their odd chemistry helps the film move along during its final third. Greg Kinnear, who was also nominated for an Oscar, provides fine support as the gay artist trying to find some meaning in life following a brutal attack. Of the three Brooks films I’ve watched over the course of this blog, As Good as it Gets is certainly the most accomplished in terms of script. Brooks combines the witty banter of Broadcast News with the sensitivity of Terms of Endearment without making the film ever lapse into sentimentality. Even though I’ve seen the film at least four or five times before I still laughed at certain moments and had tears in my eyes during others. I will admit that Brooks’ film is too long but is better paced than either of the other two movies that I previously mentioned. Hans Zimmer’s bouncy score contributes perfectly to the tone of the film and is another soundtrack that I won’t be able to get out of my head for a while. Ultimately As Good as it Gets is a satisfying comedy drama about how it’s never too late to change and is presented admirably by the film’s cast and crew.


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