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There is something about nineties romantic movies set in New York that I just love.
You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally – all classic romantic movies that pull on the heartstrings.
A recent addition to my list of favourites is now As Good as It Gets.
As Good as It Gets has the typical setting of nineties New York, and the classic tropes of a romantic film, but with an added quirky twist.
Starring Jack Nicholson who plays the sour and diagnosed OCD sufferer Melvin Udall, he spends the majority of the film avoiding all contact with anyone. He regularly rubs those around him up the wrong way with stinging insults and quips – and not funny ones. In the space of over two hours, Nicholson throws racist, sexist, homophobic, and physical slurs at those around him, and because it’s Jack Nicholson, with his rugged charm and wicked grin, we smile and enjoy the show. It is only when he becomes embroiled in the lives of his gay neighbour and the stressed single mum who serves his food at the local diner that the audience sees him soften.
Not only can he play villainous characters like Jack Torrance and The Joker, As Good as It Gets shows Jack Nicholson in a warmer and softer light only emphasising his multi-dimensional talent.
It’s strange seeing Nicholson in a romantic, light-hearted, and wholesome film after the dark tones of The Shining. However, the unlikely friendship he executes with Simon (Greg Kinnear) and Carol (Helen Hunt) is as believable and heart-warming as it is unlikely.
This is a film of multiple aspects that make it infectious and easy to watch over and over again. Not only is it a romantic comedy, but infectiously funny with profound life lessons about appreciating those around you and how everyone deserves a chance, most importantly how love deserves a chance. In an interview after the film was released, Jack Nicolson described the film as “a love story where you do nothing but aggravate somebody.”
Melvin’s progress towards trying to ‘become a better man’ starts when Simon is assaulted by friends of one of the models he is painting. As a way of helping Simon and rectifying events previous in the film, Simon’s art dealer, Frank (Cuba Gooding Jr) insists he takes care of his dog – sparking yet another unlikely pair-bonding. The storyline bears a resemblance to the transformation Scrooge undergoes in A Christmas Carol; Melvin Udall undergoes the same journey from a social outcast, to do-gooder and ultimately an unlikely character with a once again, unlikely happy ending.
This film seems so underrated for the mastery that James L. Brooks has managed to create and with stunning and infamous writing that allows for lines like;
“You make me want to be a better man.”
All actors and thus characters have perfectly executed the quality of being tired with their lot in life – various mental ailments, family commitments, unsatisfying personal and professional lives, and annoying people – and yet constantly striving for something better that is oh so close to reach.