May 2, 2015

Review: As Good as It Gets (1997)

No one can discount the success that James L. Brooks has had in the world of television or film. Being one of the creators of The Simpsons will definitely do that for you. Out of everything he's done though, one of his most impressive accomplishments to me was writing, producing and directing Terms of Endearment which is without a doubt one of the best "chick flicks" out there. Yes, even if you're a guy. The film won for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium at the Academy Awards that year and it was very deserved if you ask me.

As Good as It Gets is the first reunion between Brooks and Jack Nicholson since Terms of Endearment after fourteen years. You can't forget that Hollywood is full of failed reunions though. Still, I think it's pretty fair to expect good things from these two getting back together. They'd have another reunion in 2010 with How Do You Know, but it's pretty obvious just by looking at its poster that it's a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. It was exactly that when I watched it a few years ago too. As Good as It Gets looks to be far better than that and it doesn't take much of an investigation to come to that conclusion.


At a Glance

Genre: comedy, drama, romance
Directed by: James L. Brooks
Produced by: James L. Brooks, Bridget Johnson, Kristi Zea, etc.
Written by: Mark Andrus, James L. Brooks
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Running time: 139 minutes
Production company: TriStar Pictures, Gracie Films
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Sony Pictures Releasing, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $50,000,000
Box office: $314,178,011 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Skeet Ulrich, Shirley Knight, Yeardley Smith, Lupe Ontiveros, Jill the Dog, Timer the Dog, Billy the Dog, Bibi Osterwald, Ross Bleckner



Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is a best-selling novelist who hates pretty much everyone and everything. He suffers from a serious case of  OCD and has no shortage of mean spirited comments for the unlucky people he comes across. Gay artist Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear) is one of those people as is waitress Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt). Melvin's way of life is unexpectedly changed however when Simon is brutally attacked in his apartment.


Is it any surprise that one of the defining aspects of As Good as It Gets are the performances? When you got Jack Nicholson in a movie I guess you can almost just assume that you'll be in for a treat. As Melvin Udall, you can easily add some additional footage to his career highlight reel. Nicholson gets unbelievably mean in AGaIG, enough to be described as an "absolute horror of a human being" by Simon Bishop. He's not wrong. His OCD compulsions are entertaining to watch and probably some of Nicholson's finest bits are when he's acting with Simon's dog Verdell (Jill the Dog).

Seriously, I love that little Verdell. He's got that so ugly that it's so cute thing going on and I love it. It's almost like Nicholson turns the mutt into an actual person with his performance. Verdell is actually a crucial part of the plot in being able to inject some humanity into Melvin Udall the misanthrope who unwillingly falls in love with the little guy as he takes care of him while Simon Bishop is in the hospital. It's a missed opportunity to not have had Verdell in more scenes though as he's quite absent in the second half of the film.

I was also impressed with Helen Hunt's performance as she handles her prickly dialogue very well. She gets many chances to show off her dramatic abilities and comes out completely unscathed. She can cry and rage with the best of them and her Academy Award for Best Actress is well deserved. She keeps up with Nicholson punch for punch and that's no small accomplishment.

Greg Kinnear in a supporting role is also a big asset for As Good as It Gets. His character goes through a  life-altering event and he sells it really well. Simon Bishop is gay, but it's not like it it's all that important that he is gay. He's a character that's written without stereotypes and only Melven Udall is the one to make a big deal about him being gay. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Simon's mostly absent partner and I'd actually have to say that he overacts the part a bit. Luckily he's not around enough to ruin things though.

My problem with As Good as It Gets is that I feel like it wallows in its own misery a bit too much. Dramatic scenes just seem way too extended to me which is especially a problem when it comes to Helen Hunt's scenes. There's nothing wrong with her performance or anything. It's the direction which seems to think that there's no such thing as too much of a good thing. While As Good as It Gets is full to the brim with acting prowess, it's top heavy and loses its focus. Some tighter direction and a bit more liberalism in the cutting room would've been very welcome.

Jack Nicholson makes almost every movie he's in worthwhile. As Good as It Gets easily makes the cut as one of those movies. Nicholson isn't alone as he's matched by Helen Hunt at every turn and both are very well supported by Greg Kinnear. You also can't forget about the superb performance by Jill the Dog as Verdell who very much belongs among the canine greats of cinema. While I would've liked a little tightening at the belt level, AGaIG is an acting and dialogue fireworks show. 



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