Monday, September 12, 2011

Almost As Good As A Film Could Be: As Good As It Gets!

The Good: Amusing, Good acting, Interesting characters, Less than predictable plot
The Bad: Nothing major, Elements of predictability
The Basics: Entertaining, emotional and witty, As Good As It Gets comes close to a perfect comedy by not trying to be unnecessarily funny.

As Good As It Gets is an attempt to make a romantic comedy into something more and something different. It succeeds at the former and almost makes it as the latter. Were it not for the very end of the film and minutiae throughout, As Good As It Gets could live up to its title.

Melvin Udall is a novelist of apparently some success and import. He's obsessive compulsive and probably a hypochondriac. He is determined not to step on cracks in the sidewalk or any surface he walks on, creates an orderly environment where he writes his works and the hypochondria is evident in his obsession with germs and his bringing his own plasticware to the restaurant he habitually dines in.

Being such a pain, only one person in the restaurant who can stand - or handle - Melvin is Carol. Carol puts up with Melvin and they get on despite Melvin's crass remarks. Melvin also offends his neighbor Simon with his open homophobia and ethnic prejudice. The film's action is simple: Melvin offends Carol with a comment about her ailing son and Simon gets mugged. He gets beat up seriously. Melvin is compelled to take care of Simon's dog and in the process, Melvin extends kindness to Carol by getting health care for her ailing son.

The film hinges on the use of the characters around the protagonist. Melvin is an unlikable protagonist and he is surrounded by good and vibrant people. Carol is a wonderful character, Simon is well defined and interesting. He is crushed physically and emotionally throughout the film and it is through Simon that the film becomes something more than a romantic comedy. He's not funny, he's real and that in itself is wonderful.

The minutiae that keep the film from perfection are in Melvin. So much of the film is gotten right with him: he's a germophobe and has a stainless steel refrigerator, he leaves a restaurant with a dress code rather than wear the provided common outfit. And yet, his transformation does not read right in the time frame. While I believe the power of unconditional love is great, but it does not undo at least forty years of prejudice and inconsiderate behavior. And while the argument may be made that Melvin's kindness to Carol and her son is self-serving, it's a weak argument.

The flaw with the end is that, after all the ways the remainder of the film defies the expectation of a romantic comedy, it does not live up to our expectations that the film will continue to challenge us in its resolution.

What works is that - even with the character flaws in the arc of Melvin - the acting is consistently great. Jack Nicholson is wonderful and sardonic as Melvin. Helen Hunt - between this and Pay It Forward (reviewed here!) - proves she can play well a character quite different from herself. Wonderful! Greg Kinnear plays Simon wonderfully with depth that is lacking from so many characters in today's works. Cuba Gooding Jr. performs well as Simon's partner.

When As Good As It Gets attempts humor, it succeeds, when it tries serious and deep, it excels. This film is perfect for those who enjoyed the short-lived series Sports Night (reviewed here!) and is a fine choice for anyone who wants more of their comedies than funny and predictable.

For other works with Jack Nicholson, please visit my reviews of:
The Departed
Terms Of Endearment
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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