a delicious concoction spun of laughter and talent


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

           “As Good As It Gets” is Hollywood’s Christmas present to movielovers, a delicious confection spun of laughter and talent.  If you don’t like this one, try another medium.  Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt run full tilt with a great script, endowing it with such perfect comic timing that the arch of an eyebrow or the shrug of a shoulder sends a roll of laughter through the audience.  Masters of the comic pause, they give us the pleasure of anticipating their reactions to the insults that fly through the air. 

            The movie opens with a sublime standoff between Melvin (Jack Nicholson) and a small dog so well trained that he easily handles a starring role in this zany ballet.  Melvin is a perfectionist, a diagnosed obsessive/compulsive who uses hot water, soap, and gloves to repel germs.  He is also a successful writer who works peacefully in a precisely structured environment of music, books, bars of soap, and other possessions essential to the life of an unbalanced professional.               

            The neighbors across the hall, perfect targets for Melvin’s compulsively unrestrained bigotry, are the dog and a gay couple:  Simon (Greg Kinnear) and Frank (Cuba Gooding Jr.).  Every time he leaves his apartment, Melvin spews forth cleverly crafted insults at blacks, gays, Jews, and the single mom/waitress who serves him a coffee shop breakfast each morning and tolerates him only to a point.  All are worthy opponents in the verbal war. 

            It is Carol (Helen Hunt) who forces Melvin to trip over his own invective by discovering the prince inside the cloak of the boor.  The marvelous Carol wants only Melvin’s respect, but that’s asking a lot of a misanthrope.  Watching the perfectionist derail the details of his own transformation is great comedy.

Jack Nicholson turns words to gold.  He plays with them, swallows them, spits them out, and separates them with magnificent pauses.  Snarling, crying, laughing, hurting, his face is a road map to his emotions.  And he has met his match in Helen Hunt.  Using body language as commentary and her face as a mirror of her soul, Hunt lets pride, pain, joy, and despair play all over her face, sometimes all at once. 

With fine support from Greg Kinnear as the struggling artist who can soak up all of Hunt’s kindness, the two stars manage, in the middle of verbal mayhem, to deliver some original and extremely touching scenes.  James L. Brooks who directed, produced, and also co-wrote the script with Mark Andrus, has peppered his dialogue with provocative insights and acid tipped darts that puncture the hot air balloon of political correctness.  This is dialogue sharpened on all its edges for delivery by two masters of timing and facial expression.    

            Only someone as mean as Melvin would look for holes in a flippant romantic comedy that makes an entire audience feel good.  None of its small flaws has the strength to derail this movie or interrupt the rhythm of its laughter.   

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