Looking at a film I enjoyed, but had a quite a few issues with…
Whilst perusing Netflix the other day, I was fortunate enough to come across an old rom-com from 1995 called As Good as it Gets Written and Directed by James L. Brookes. Since it starred Jack Nicholson and was about a character with OCD, which I haven’t seen in many films, I thought I would give it a try. What I discovered about this film is that it’s simultaneously really great and pretty bad. A lot of things in this film are fantastic and I really enjoy them, but there are other aspects that grate on me quite a bit, and I can’t decide which parts of the film matter more. I struggled to decide if I liked this film so much so, that I thought I would run through what it does well and what frustrates me about it.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this film was Nicholson’s performance. I have yet to see a film he has starred in where I didn’t love his character, although admittedly it is always the same character. In this he plays a cantankerous, misanthropic novelist with severe OCD and poor social skills. Nicholson brings his trademark snarky lines and bad attitude, but his portrayal of obsessive compulsive behaviour is very compelling. He manages to create a lot of sympathy whilst not playing it for laughs. What I don’t love about his character however is the racial and homophobic slurs. I know it’s a part of his character that he has to overcome and that having a flawed protagonist is more interesting, but for me it doesn’t work. The fact is that Melvin Udall is a nasty enough person to everyone around him without adding discrimination to his traits. I wouldn’t mind so much if he had a moment of character growth where he learns to overcome his prejudices, but the matter is never properly addressed. Udall simply grows to like the characters he had previously slurred. Maybe that’s enough for some, but for me it feels incomplete.
Another character who is excellent is Helen Hunt’s put-upon waitress, Carol. She is a struggling single mother, who can’t seem to find time for a love life, and can’t get good medical care for her ailing son. She serves Udall at his regular diner, and he begins to develop a respect (and later love) for her as she doesn’t take his eccentricities lying down. As Melvin says himself at one point, her character inspires him to better himself; this is a very sweet aspect of her personality. Helen Hunt does a great job portraying her strength of will and independence, as well as some very emotional moments, such as when she discovers Melvin has covered all her medical expenses. On the other hand, the character becomes very mercurial and emotionally inconsistent towards the end of the film.
Admittedly, Melvin is hard to cope with thanks to his inappropriate comments and selfish attitude, but if she doesn’t want to be with him, she shouldn’t keep agreeing to meet him. She seems unable to decide if she wants a relationship with him, and constantly gets frustrated or even angry with Melvin about his eccentricities. The problem is she doesn’t take his OCD into account enough. I may sound harsh when I say that her indecisiveness and lighting fast changes of heart are very irritating to watch. There is also a slightly creepy element to their relationship when you consider that she is a pretty 35 year old, and he is a 60 year old Jack Nicholson. There is a reason Jack is so good in the shining after all… In fact, the few scenes in which her mother interacts with Melvin are even worse, as they are clearly a similar age, making you think it would be a more appropriate romance.
Performances aside, the film has a very unpredictable story; I was unable to guess most of the plot elements, which for me is a rarity. I enjoyed watching Melvin undergo a change of character, particularly the scenes in which he takes care of his neighbour’s dog after he is hospitalised. The scenes of him slowly growing fond of the dog are hilarious and adorable, and probably enough reason to see the movie on its own. The film is very funny, I had several good belly laughs at moments, such as when Melvin snaps at a fan of his books after an increasingly horrible day. The one liners in this film are very well written, and although the writing is a little unrealistic (I’m pretty sure most people aren’t quite so melodramatic) it is a lot of fun. Greg Kinnear is very entertaining as a gay artist living next door, who struggles to be confrontational. His complicated relationship with Udall is actually more interesting and heart-warming to me than the main romance. The fact that he is a gay character who portrayed as completely normal is icing on the cake.
A visual downside of the film is that the colour is often very bright and quite odd. It detracts from the overall realistic tone, as characters wear almost comically bright colours, and shirts with two buttons done up. The colours often clash and it makes the film not much fun to look at. However, after looking through all the good things this movie has to offer, I have decided it is good after all. It has enough good things going for it that outnumber the bad elements, and at its core, it fulfils its purpose well; it is a comedy and it made me laugh. Quite a lot.