Oscar Movie Month: "As Good as It Gets" Review

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Dysfunctional, acid-tongued romance novelist Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson), who suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder, takes pride in his ability to offend. At a nearby cafe, the only waitress willing to stand up to his sarcastic tirades is Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt), a single mother struggling to raise her chronically asthmatic son.
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Oscar Movie Month: "As Good as It Gets" Review

Rating: PG-13 (for strong language, thematic elements, nudity, and beating)
Length: 139 minutes
Release Date: Dec. 25, 1997
Directed by: James L. Brooks
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance

In "As Good as It Gets," the story revolves around a single mother who works as a waitress, a gay artist, and a misanthropic author. The trio forms an unlikely friendship after the artists get injured in an accident. The movie's story and screenplay were written by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks.

In the movie, Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is a best-selling novelist in New York City who works from his house. He is a misanthrope who also suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, a combination that alienates him from other people. Every day, he goes to the same restaurant and eats his breakfast at the same table. He is also suffering from mysophobia, a pathological condition that makes him bring disposable plastic utensils for his breakfast to the restaurant every day. The only person who tolerates his behavior at the restaurant is Carol Connelly (Helen hunt).

Udall has a gay neighbor, Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), who is an artist. One day, Bishop is injured and hospitalized. Udall has to care for Bishop's dog while the later is recuperating, and his affection for the pet slowly grows. In fact, he becomes so attached to the dog that he is devastated when its owner gets back from the hospital. To make matters worse, Connelly also has to move back to her hometown to stay close to her son, whose acute asthma is getting worse. Realizing that he cannot cope with the two loses, Udall pays for Connelly's son's medical expenses and convinces her not to move.

Meanwhile, Bishop loses his creativity and is nearly bankrupted by his treatment costs. A friendship develops between the three during a trip to Baltimore. When Connelly and Udall disagree during a dinner outing, Bishop is inspired by an agitated Connelly and regains his creativity. Back in New York City, the relationship between Udall and Connelly gets even more complicated.

"As Good as It Gets" has a certain appeal bordering on quirkiness, and those who have watched his "Broadcast News" will agree that the comparison is apt. Whether as a writer or as a director, Bishop is hugely talented when it comes to generating happiness from his characters. He manages to do this even when the characters are less inclined to be happy, as is the case in this film.

What the movie may lack in other areas, it makes up for in character development. Udall, for example, is a comical figure in his own rights. His misanthropy aside, he is also so bigoted that few people are able to withstand him. Furthermore, he is able to exhibit these and other traits without even leaving his home. He taunts everybody around him from Bishop's pet (a dog) to Bishop's art dealer. At one point, he even throws the dog down an incinerator!

Kinnear also plays Bishop to perfection. Those who watched him in "Sabrina" got to see his feckless charm, but this time he is called upon to show more depth of character. In fact, when "As Good as It Gets" was released, he is the one who surprised many people with his solid but dramatic portrayal of Bishop. Some credit is due to the supporting cast too.

"As Good as It Gets" was released on Christmas, which was a very fitting day for it. One reason for this is that the film's story takes place during the Yule season, and the other reason is that the plot is very suitable for Christmas. Many people will agree that most of the plot elements seem to have been lifted straight out of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Udall can be likened to an unwilling sinner who is destined to be saved. Everybody who watches the movie will agree that it has a feel-good effect that lingers long after the credits have stopped rolling.

It can be argued that "As Good as It Gets" is actually two movies rolled into one. In fact, this becomes even more apparent when the slightly more than two hours runtime is considered. On one hand, there is a traditional romantic comedy with all the hallmarks of what one would expect from such a film. On the other hand, there is a modern-day take of "A Christmas Carol." It is not a film that will leave viewers pumping their fists into the air, but it will definitely leave a few tears on some cheeks. Only a talented filmmaker could have married the two genres so successfully, and Brooks and his team obviously succeeded.

Rating: 4 out of 5