AS GOOD AS IT GETS
US, 1997, 138 minutes, Colour.
Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding, Skeet Ulrich, Shirley Knight
Directed by James L. Brooks
Melvin Udall, a reclusive writer, is ridden with compulsive obsessive phobias. He exhibits bigotry towards all minorities. He continually mocks his gay neighbour, Simon, and loathes his dog. At his local diner he is dependent on his favourite waitress, Carol, to serve him and show some interest in him.
When Simon is assaulted by robbers, Melvin is forced to take his dog for walks and starts to grow attached to the dog. Carol's son suffers from a breathing illness and Melvin arranges to have a good doctor care for him. His motive is that Carol can easily return to work to look after him. He is wary of any show of gratitude from her.
He gradually befriends the embittered Simon and agrees to drive him to see his parents, asking Carol to accompany them. Simon rediscovers his painting abilities and does a portrait of Carol who is upset by Melvin's continuing obtuseness. Melvin listens to Simon and follows his advice: he goes to Carol to express his love for her.
This movie is a wry comedy from the writer-director of Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News. It has the same qualities and appeal. James L. Brooks shows sympathy for a wide range of characters, especially those who are annoying and cantankerous. Yet they gradually reveal their more humane side.
Jack Nicholson is Melvin, a rude, prejudiced, obsessive writer. Nicholson relishes the opportunity to be manic. He develops a character who can't be ignored, who is searching for support and redemption despite himself. It is an Oscar-winning performance. Helen Hunt, star of television's Mad About You, also won an Oscar and subsequently starred in several hits, Cast Away, What Women Want, Pay it Forward. Greg Kinnear plays the gay artist with humour and pathos.
This trio are not cut-out characters. Brooks and his cast take us below surface eccentricities. There are some fine scenes where each character gets to make a speech about being a better person for having met the other. And you can believe that there could be life after the fadeout.
1. The title and tone? As spoken by Melvin? Expectations for quality of life? For the others?
2. The many awards, the strong cast, the use of songs, especially Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, the musical score, worlds of New York City, apartments, streets, diners? The highway, Baltimore, the restaurant?
3. Melvin story, his age? Jack Nicholson’s performance, Oscar-winning? Melvin and his compulsions and obsessions? His success as an author? His failure in relationships? Living alone, relying on his routines, the locks on the door, his concerns, the opening with the dog, his distaste, putting it down the rubbish chute? His interactions with Simon, his insults to him, Frank confronting him, and drawing the line? Going to the diner, his cutlery, edginess about the Jews sitting in his place, use of terms like nigger, fag? Various epithets and his prejudice? His friendship with Carol, clashes with her boss, her comments and his reaction, his listening to her conversations? Simon and his being bashed, Frank and the dog, the bonding, Melvin taking the dog for a walk, the bacon allegedly attracting the dog to him? Carol and his being rude to her, the substitute and his insulting her, finding her address, ticking off Spencer and Carol’s reaction? His publisher, her husband being a doctor, coming to test Spencer, Melvin paying the bills, Carol and her reaction, her going to his house, saying she would not sleep with him, the rain? His attitude to Simon, taking in the soup, sitting down, telling the story? Simon persuading him to go on the trip, the loan of the car, asking Carol to go with him? The trip, the music, the stop, the insults, going to the restaurant, his long shower, his not dancing, commenting on Carol’s dress and her being hurt? His sense of failure, talking to the man at the bar? His return? Carol not wanting to see him again? Simon and talking to him, persuading him to visit, meeting Carol, going for the walk, the bakery, declaring their love for each other?
4. Carol’s story, her age, single mother, her love for Spencer, his continued illness, her dependence on her mother, her mother living in, going to the hospitals, absent from work? Meeting Melvin, taking his orders, the cutlery, speaking directly at him, his visit to her home, her being upset about his ticking off Spencer? The doctor, the relief, the paying of the bills? Her exasperation with her mother, her mother inviting her to go for a walk, their bonding? The wet night, going to Melvin’s house, saying she would not sleep with him? Her writing the letter, bringing it to the diner, reading it to him? Agreeing to go to Baltimore, the music and the car, dressing for the dance, waiting for him, walking out on him after his comment about the dress? The night with Simon, the bath, posing, his sketching her? The feeling of love and tenderness? Saying she would never see Melvin again, his arrival, the discussion, being persuaded to go out, the bakery, declarations of love?
5. Simon, gay, his lifestyle, camp manner, relationship with Frank, his art, looking for the model, sketching him, the robbery and his being mugged, in hospital, his friend and the financial difficulties, his story about his alienation from his parents? His needs, Frank and his arrangements, walking the dog, the dog going to Melvin rather than Simon? Melvin and his bringing the soup? The decision to go to Baltimore, the phone call to his mother, enjoying the stay, Carol and sketching her, the cuddle and hug and her need, Carol bring Simon alive again?
6. Frank, the a dealer, gay, his relationships, love for Simon, confrontation with Melvin about the dog, going to the diner and asking Melvin to take the trip to Baltimore?
7. Carol’s mother, her love, helping, talking with her, the intervention with Melvin?
8. The sketch of the model, his posing, his expectations, his friends, the robbery and the mugging?
9. Ordinary people in ordinary situations, loneliness, isolation, vulnerability, the capacity for being hurt, helping each other, building relationships, genuine love and friendship?