As Good As It Gets (1997)

Jack Nicholson As Good As It Gets Above the Line Rory DeanAs Good As It Gets (1997) is that rare film that actually is, as good as it gets.  As one of a handful of significantly successful romantic comedies of the 1990s, this movie defies the boundaries of its genre; purposefully so and unlike others before and since, gets awfully close to enjoyable for those men who find romantic comedies not their cup of tea.  Despite wikipedia’s definition of the romantic comedy, or because of it, these films are often referred to as Rom Com or Romcom, and described as “films with light-hearted humorous plotlines, centered on romantic ideals such as a true love able to surmount most obstacles.”  I can’t argue with that but I think you’ll find that there is a great deal more at work in this genre than such an over simplification.  Sure, there are films that dare not breach such narrow parameters and yet are successful, at least in box office receipts.  Most of these films involve a romantic element that is the driving force between two people, often in pursuit of one another or who are often separated and must overcome great obstacles in order to be together, but what is truly at the core of this genre and dare I say all films, is the emotional investment we the audience establish with the characters.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanThe films that get it right contain well-defined, accessible characters that possess a range of emotions and are capable of navigating plausible, if not decisively difficult courses, all for the sake of love – to find love or prove their love or secure their love.  It is with the characters that we bond and follow, characters who make us smile or dare us as much or more so to join them on their journey.  In French Kiss, when Kate (Meg Ryan) flies to France in pursuit of the so-called love of her life and in the process becomes the unwitting accomplish to Luc Teyssier’s (Kevin Kline) smuggling escapade, we are interested for her naivety and for his cunning, but ultimately we’re hopeful that this peculiar yet tangible relationship go somewhere, will be sustainable somehow.  How they will find one another through the course of the story and the frequently obvious plot devices, at this point, is irrelevant.  It is amazing how much we can forgive a film for stumbling once we’ve accepted the characters and invest in them.

Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) though sharply witty and clever, often crass but to the point, is obviously and easily despicable.  Yet we find something in him that is amusing, albeit self-serving and ill-mannered, even after he puts the tiny dog down a garbage chute.  We care about Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt) because who hasn’t had a bad job and had to put up with bad people, all the while dealing with your own life issues when you get home.  And while Simon Bishop (Greg Kinear) is a seemingly lofty and privileged artist, and deep down we’re partly content to see him brought down to street level, we feel for him afterwards and care about how he is going to get his life back in order.  We want him to get back on his feet and paint again just as much as we want him to reconnect with his estranged parents.  All of these varying shades of gray are what bind us together, they are our connected and disconnected histories and each in one way or another endear us.  This is the very reason why we end up rooting for Melvin to make the right moves with Carrol.  Layers; in the layers of films like As Good As It Gets are the very best and worst characters we know and through them we see ourselves.

As Good As it Gets - Jack Nicholson Helen Hunt Above the Line Movie ReviewsThe very best films find things that exist in each one of us, part of our collective dreams and history, parts of things we are proud of and ashamed of and they populate interesting, imaginary characters who we live vicariously through.  Who doesn’t want Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt to get together? When she asks him to give her a compliment at the restaurant toward the end of the movie, she demands one or she is going to walk out on him.  After a moment he turns to her and delivers one of the most famous lines in a romantic comedy of recent memory: “You make me want to be a better man.” Of course he ruins it right after that but it’s OK because that’s probably what we would have done.  He’s a hero’s hero, he accomplishes what we want to or can’t but he also does it in a believable, flawed and imperfect way.  We are all flawed and deep down when we’re watching movies we want to watch flawed characters in flawed stories too because we can relate to them.  People who choose to watch a romantic comedy aren’t trying to escape the confines of their worlds any more than they want to be reminded of what is missing or how they have failed.  People who watch romantic comedies are looking for bits and pieces of themselves, the funny bits and the sad ones too; contained within ordinary and not so ordinary stories of momentary glimpses of how it is to live and breathe, how to make mistakes and feel bad right along side triumph and hope and happiness however short-lived.

Above the Line: Practical Movie Reviews Rory DeanThe best romantic comedies, like As Good As It Gets, encompass a great deal more than the sum of their parts.  We want one Melvin Udall to help his gay neighbor, Simon, and to be forced to care for the very same critter he tried to dispose of down the garbage chute.  The beauty of a story like this, of a film with such a loathsome protagonist is that slowly, eventually, we do care about a man who could do such a thing and that for all the money in the world is the magic of cinema.  When Helen Hunt, arms filled with dirty dishes from busing tables, unfurls the tattered note she toiled over for hours, the thank you she prepared for Melvin after he helped her son, we find pause in the humanity of the moment and wonder how it was we were ever so caught up in our own lives that we did not take notice the last time someone was kind to us or went out of their way to lend us a hand when we needed it the most.  There are not enough notes like this written these days.  Not nearly enough notes.

This isn’t a movie review in the traditional sense because there is hardly a thing I could write that hasn’t already been written, shared, and discussed about this truly touching and heartfelt film.  I might write about the 25 award nominations and the 23 wins, including Oscars for Nicholson, and Hunt, that James L. Brooks was nominated for a Director’s Guild of America Award, or to the Golden Globes and SAG awards – all well deserving but awards don’t make a movie what it is.  Awards happen later, after the film has been completed and the filmmakers have moved on to other projects.  Awards are little reminders that for a moment, a creative thing happened and in this infinitesimal instance in history, it was something special.

About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
This entry was posted in Movie I've Seen, Movies You Should or Should Not See, On DVD and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to As Good As It Gets (1997)

  1. Pingback: World Wide News Flash

  2. Rodney says:

    Great revi—- article there Rory. It’s a great film, well scripted and acted (Nicholson steals this one, IMHO) and even years later, it’s just as pertinent now as it was then.

    I don’t know about you, but I can’t quite put my finger on why Helen Hunt is so revered in Hollywood (although she has fallen off the radar a little since her Oscar). I enjoyed her in Twister, but just about everything else she’s appeared in has been a little…. try hard? She’s trying too hard to win another Oscar (perhaps thinking Pay It Forward might just deliver, perhaps?). Roles in Bobby, Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, Cast Away and A Good Woman, in particular the former two, weren’t commercially successful, and Cast Away was only good because of Tom Hanks. I think she’s a good actress, but some of her choices in roles lately have left a little to be desired…. What do you think?

    • rorydean says:

      Hey…you’re right about Jack, but then again these days, he’s almost always the focus and necessarily so. He’s quickly becoming the last of a generation of brilliants and the smart producers in Hollywood know it and are going to continue to capitalize on it. Did you see The Bucket List? Mediocre film at best, but teaming Nicholson and Freeman was sheer brilliance, the chemistry alone enough to fill in every pot-hole plot hiccup and story bump. Nicholson, Freeman, Eastwood, they keep getting better day after day, year after year and contained deep within those lines of experience are years of experience. The smart ones are writing scripts for them right now. I hope Nicholson gets to finish the last film he is in (during or after) before he dies – it will be miraculous, indeed.

      Did you see and or like The Departed? Jack was a madman. He delivered such permanence and strength that it was tangible – you felt after every scene with your heart pounding a little harder, teeth clenched, and it was directly because of him. I must say Scorsese finally had a mostly good film on his hands (Dicaprio and a few other odds and ends notwithstanding) since way back in the 90s — but I’m a perfectionist I suppose and I know what I like regardless of who is at the helm. I mean who hasn’t sat at the gold throne and delivered a bad film? Anyone?

      That being said and all things being equal..

      I think the reason Helen Hunt has the career that she has is because of her sit-com, Mad About You. For some reason she built a tremendous reputation from that series and being that it ran for what, seven seasons — I think she has proven herself to a lot of producers and filmmakers in Hollywood so when projects come her way, her demographic that is, she is on the top of the list. Who is going to do it, Demi Moore? Kim Basinger? Wrong! They give her a shot and for the time being, she connected with people much the way she did with her Mad About You audience, she is going to keep that award very near the surface of anything she has in the immediate future.

      My thoughts: She has a unique but approachable personae; at once strikingly beautiful and then again nothing unlike every dirty blonde you have ever seen in your life, next to you on a bar stool, next in line for coffee. She has a look that ‘looks good’ on camera and for that I think you can go a long way. I wouldn’t say she has the most range I’ve ever seen, I mean she’s no Streep or Sarandon or Swinton (don’t get me started about my love affair with Tilda) but she delivers honest and believable performances in a way that makes her the same AND different at the same time. I mean, and this might seem circular, but while she is delivering adequately, well even, you find yourself thinking, I want more, I need more range! Perhaps that is her best weapon of all, the allusion of going where you want and deciding moment by moment, not to. You don’t have to like how she does it but you have to admit, she is consistent if anything and that’s a far cry bigger a thing than many, many an actor working in the business can attest to. I’d die for that chance – but I get you, we’re not talking about that.

      Yes, she has gone quiet since the win but I think that is strategic – both on her part and on her management. Big award, pause, new movie, everyone must see!

      Hunt was strong in Twister because the filmmakers capitalized on her boyishness, her tech-meets-prom-queen performance endeared one and all – I mean, really, who didn’t want her to get Bill (yes) Paxton in the end?

      Maybe you’re onto something about the ‘Oscar’ – it seems such a necessary travail by actors these days. I wish it didn’t. Opinions reserved regarding Pay It Forward (horrific title, btw), Bobby, Curse of the JS, Cast Away, again reservations reserved about A Good Woman. I think she plays to the kind of character that works well in the general Hollywood demographic – middle aged but looks younger, thin and well received by the camera, a pretty nice career on television. On paper she’s bankable. In person, I think she’s a charming, attractive and deservedly successful actress – though I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting and or working with her. I might sound like a fan, like a blind-sided Hunt-aficionado but as I grow order I think to myself there are just those people who work as hard as anyone else who makes it look easy (like Eastwood, Swinton, Kidman) and when others get some accolades and accomplishments, I just figure something right happened in the world.

      So I beat the horse of this subject to death, but I hope that covered something. I want to revisit her career and I’m going to write something longer on the subject of one Helen Hunt. cheers->

  3. Richard says:

    I love this movie. For me, Nicholson walks a fine line between greatness and total excess, but he was brilliant in this one. I could kinda relate to him too, which is a bit scary. 😉

    Great review, Rory.

    By the way, I’ve tagged you in a 15 Directors Meme, if you feel like having a go at it.

    Good luck!

    • rorydean says:

      I like to go back to this film for so many reasons, the unlikely but ultimately fruitful but odd romantic comedy element, the ensemble with Greg Kinear and Cuba Gooding Jr., the funny bits but also the harder edges, like Kinear’s struggle with his parents and ultimately the robbery/assault, Helen Hunt’s character the waitress with the sick son and live-in mother scenario. There’s a lot going on but everything feeds the main narrative and it works that way. Too many films get it wrong with a muddled script and loose plot points that don’t go anywhere.

      thanks and I’ll check out the Meme..cheers->

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s