Nicholson ‘As Good As’ He Gets In Brooks Film

‘As Good As It Gets” doesn’t quite live up to its title, but it comes pretty darn close. A wonderfully unconventional look at love and the tenuous way people make connections in today’s anonymous world, James L. Brooks’ new film features a stellar cast along with crisp, intelligent writing and a cute little dog who manages to upstage everyone, including Jack Nicholson.

The movie follows three characters who have absolutely nothing in common but wind up needing each other desperately. Nicholson is Melvin Udall, an obsessive-compulsive romance novelist who has several unwavering routines. He uses a bar of soap only once. He can’t step on sidewalk cracks. And every morning, he consumes a hearty breakfast served by the only waitress in New York who can put up with him.

The waitress, Carol (Helen Hunt), is a plucky single mother struggling to raise her chronically ill son. Melvin calls Carol “the kind of woman that if you make her laugh, you’ve got a life.” He’s right. But Melvin doesn’t really make her laugh. Mostly he just repulses her.

Another person Melvin repulses is Simon (Greg Kinnear), a gay artist who lives across the hall from him in an upscale apartment building. Simon has a budding career going until one of his models badly beats him in a botched robbery. Until Simon recovers, Melvin is forced through a set of quirky circumstances (there are no other kind in this movie) to care for the artist’s furry little dog.

And that’s where the connection between the characters begins. The first half of the film unfolds in a series of episodic vignettes designed to revealingly entertain.

Because Simon is played by Nicholson, you know that the old Jack magic is eventually going to kick in and win your heart. The dog realizes this first, which is no surprise. When it comes to smarts, this mutt makes Lassie look like Pauly Shore.

Nicholson’s romance novelist is a homophobic, misogynistic bigot - an absolute horror of a human being - and we love him anyway. The man is an equal-opportunity offender. Cross his path, draw his wrath. When we first see him, he’s dropping the dog down the garbage chute. It’s a priceless image that sets the tone for the many laughs to come.

But there’s obviously a lot more going on beneath Melvin’s anger, and Nicholson expertly reveals the humanity hiding behind the insults. He’s obnoxious, vulnerable, philosophical, original. It’s a performance that will likely win him a third Oscar in the spring.

Hunt is terrific, too, playing the woman who evicts Melvin from his own life. Hunt digs deep and pulls off a turn that walks a perfect tightrope between tough and tender.

xxxx “As Good As It Gets” Location: Lyons, Spokane Valley Mall, Coeur d’Alene Cinemas, Post Falls Cinema Credits: Directed by James L. Brooks, starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear Running time: 2:10 Rating: PG-13

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