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As Good As It Gets

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: As Good As It Gets

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt
Director: James L. Brooks
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 138 Minutes
Release Date: December 1997
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Drama

*Also starring: Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Skeet Ulrich, Shirley Knight, Yeardley Smith, Lupe Ontiveros, Jesse James, Harold Ramis

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Writer and director James L. Brooks, who has blessed us with several wonderful films including TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and one of my all time favorite movies, BROADCAST NEWS, gives the world a present this Christmas called AS GOOD AS IT GETS. Few movies live up to their title, but this romantic comedy is indeed just about as good as it gets.

In the story Melvin Udall suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He will not walk on lines in the sidewalk, which makes strolling down busy Manhattan sidewalks pretty tricky. Walking on tiled floors is almost impossible, too hard to avoid the cracks. When he enters his apartment he locks the door five times and then goes to wash his hands. With a medicine cabinet full of soaps he opens two fresh ones, washes his hands in near-boiling water and discards the soaps afterward.

And if you think that this behavior is bizarre, wait until you see how he treats his fellow human beings. Jack Nicholson, in a perfect bit of casting, plays Melvin with his foul mouth and his overscrubbed body.

Melvin, a highly successful romance novelist, lives to insult people and with his own bit of equal opportunity he manages to be obnoxious to everyone with the same fervor. Fawning over him, the receptionist at his publishers asks him, "How do you write women so well?" With a sneer he retorts, "I think of men, and I take away reason and accountability."

Nicholson's performance would remain just a fascinating side-show were it not for the casting of Helen Hunt as Carol Connelly, the only waitress in New York who can tolerate Melvin's behavior. Her reactions to his outlandish conduct and her ability to stand up to him are precious. "Do you have any control over how creepy you can get?" she asks him.

Reportedly Holly Hunter was to have Hunt's role but could not agree on an acceptable salary. As much as I admire Hunter's talents, the other HH actress seems much better suited to the role of a struggling waitress. Never did I think of Hunt as an actress. She became a blue collar worker with a son with chronic, life-threatening asthma and with a live-in mother all ensconced in a tiny apartment.

To round out the picture Greg Kinnear plays Melvin's next-door neighbor, Simon Bishop, a gay artist who gets down on his luck. And in a funny little part Cuba Gooding Jr. is Simon's friend Frank Sachs, an antiques dealer, who tries to out macho Melvin but hates having to do it.

As I've suggested before, the difference between a good film and a great one lies in how well it handles the small details. Consider one believable and riotously funny sequence. Carol has trouble finding boyfriends, what with her busy schedule, her tiny shared apartment and her sick son. When she finally gets a man up to her place, her son's illness interrupts their first caress. Upon returning to her date, his crude fondling attempt ends in a squeal as he notices that she has a little vomit left on her blouse. He beats a fast exit as she realizes that the complexities of being a poor, single mother has done her love life in again. Throughout this scene her mother carefully wears her headphones so that she can afford Carol some privacy.

Another measure of an outstanding film is whether it can break certain motion picture axioms and get away with it. One certainly is that comedies, and most movies for that matter, should come in under two hours. Although this one is over two and a quarter hours long, there simply is nothing to cut. I loved all of the characters and would have been happy to see the movie last another hour. Even the dog (a Brussels Griffon who is the spitting image of Gismo from GREMLINS) sets a new standard for cinematic canine cuteness. (Brooks toyed with the idea of calling the movie, A DOG'S STORY.)

If there is any justice in Hollywood then Nicholson, Hunt and Kinnear will all get Academy Award acting nominations as well as Brooks and his co-writer Mark Andrus for the intelligent script and Brooks for the dead-on directing.

That Melvin and Carol, who could not be more dissimilar, will fall in love is obvious from the movie's setup, but that doesn't make watching it anything less than enthralling. In one of the movie's best scenes, Carol forces a showdown. Either Melvin gives her a compliment, or she walks. "You make me want to be a better man," he tells her while straining every muscle in his face. After a long pause, in which you have no idea how she will react to his strange reply, she reflects, "That's maybe the best compliment of my life."

AS GOOD AS IT GETS runs 2:18. It is rated PG-13 for strong language, mature themes, brief nudity and a beating and would be fine for kids around eleven and up.

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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