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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Movie Review: AS GOOD AS IT GETS


As Good As It Gets is a 1997 dramatic comedy directed by James L. Brooks that follows the exploits of a man afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as he starts to break out of his shell. Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) is a quirky but accomplished novelist who secretly suffers from OCD. Because of his obsessions and compulsions, he comes off as a rash and unlikable man, but no one can really see behind the veneer he has created for himself. When he meets a younger waitress named Carol (Helen Hunt), he starts to get to know her in the hopes of winning her favor. Melvin learns that Carol's son suffers from very bad asthma attacks that constantly send him to the emergency room, so he enlists the help of a doctor to take special interest in his case. Taken aback by his kindness, Carol does her best to thank him but cannot find the right way to do so. When Melvin reluctantly agrees to drive his homosexual neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear) to Baltimore, he asks Carol to join them for the trip in the hopes that something might spark between them. Drama and comedy ensue and take us for a ride all the way to the end of the film.

I've been meaning to watch this movie for quite a while, considering it's an Oscar-winning flick. Plus, I'll watch just about anything with Jack Nicholson, so this has been very high on my to-watch list for quite some time. The first thing you're going to notice about the film is the level of acting. While As Good As It Gets was nominated for seven Academy Awards - including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay - it only took home statuettes for its two lead actors: Nicholson and Hunt. Now, of the other eight films nominated in the lead acting categories, I've only seen one of them (Titanic, for which Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress), so I can't really tell you whether Nicholson and Hunt truly deserved their awards. While they're both very good in the film, I'm not entirely sure whether they're Oscar-caliber performances, but as I said, I don't have knowledge of their direct competition. Nicholson does a good job playing a convincing man with OCD, going through all the quirks and ticks necessary to make the character realistic. At the end of the day, however, we're given another typical Nicholson performance. There just isn't much dichotomy between his different roles of the past twenty years. Fortunately, he's good regardless. Hunt also does well, but I didn't really think there was anything truly spectacular about her character. If anyone delivers a great performance, it's Kinnear - who was also nominated for an Oscar but ultimately lost to Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting - as an openly gay man who's facing the very real threat of losing everything that he's ever worked to attain. Also, be on the lookout for smaller roles and cameos from Cuba Gooding Jr., Skeet Ulrich, Jamie Kennedy and Harold Ramis.

Despite the fact that we're given an Oscar-nominated screenplay, I'm not entirely sure whether I was entirely sold by it. Sure, it gives us a very interesting look at a sick man, shedding light on an ailment that many people probably don't entirely understand. We also get a good dose of drama along the way from all of Melvin's situations and ordeals. Perhaps the story is more character-driven than plot-driven, and that's why I'm not really feeling very strongly about the storyline which proved to be a rote tale of romance wrapped in a different kind of paper. Melvin's character arc from beginning to end is pretty drastic, but there didn't seem to be much weight associated with it all. I never felt fully connected to his character - had I been, I think the gradual change in his personality would have been all the more powerful. Carol and Simon also go through some major character arcs, but for the same reason, I didn't feel like they impacted me all that strongly.

That's not to say that As Good As It Gets isn't a good film. It's definitely worth watching, but I just don't think you should go in expecting anything terribly brilliant. I might have entered the film with higher expectations than I should have had, so it's probably my own fault that I'm not fawning over this flick right now. Just don't get me wrong - there's plenty to like here. Do your best to go in with an open and unbiased mind, and I think it will serve you much better than it did for me to go in expecting brilliance.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

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