As Good As It Gets (1997)
There’s a thing about getting older. You get grumpy and you get a licence to be grumpy. It’s a thing, kiddos. I get to mutter and grumble in post office queues because they’re shite. I get to fart in cinemas because I need to. And I get to hide old Clive’s blood thinner because one last thrombosis is what he needs; for all our sakes.
But this is about age and out-growing the rules. Old Jack, indeed everyone past 50, should be forgiven. But those who are simply vile; they should not.
To Jack Nicholson and this film. He is magnificently Hollywood’s Jack Nicholson: poisonous, bullying, limelight-grabbing and with added nasty to small animals. The film wants him to grow – and works its plots and characters to reshape him – but does so at the expense of honesty. He is presented as being ill. O.C.D...that’s where the nasty comes from. So, rather than growing, the film is actually trying to cure him of anxieties that don’t lead to this level of nasty.
So – bollocks.
He plays Melvin Udall, writer of romantic fiction (comedy contrast, ahoy), obsessive curmudgeon (again, illness as lovable caricature), sexist, racist and homophobe (…are we assumed to be on auto-forgive?)…
One obsession is Helen Hunt’s waitress, Carol, who gets all possible credit for playing it real. Except for the wet T-shirt scene: very popular in the home’s Klub Kinema, gratuitous as fuck and number 12 in JoBLo’s Top 12 Great Wet T-Shirt moments. Really.
Another is the 1980sly gay Simon, played by primped and emotionally camp Greg Kinnear. He’s great, and drags out unexpected sympathy and joy when he bonds with Carol, but – ugh. He looks weak and a step away from Carry On shame when set against twenty years of shifting social norms, HBO and marital equality.
The three become sort-of friends and head off on a clumsy road-trip, which feels a bit like those moments in Shakespeare when you twig the ‘play-within-the-play thing’ is going to take an hour.
Melvin thrashes at changing (as do all intensely self-aware characters who mustn’t learn from that awareness or the plot is fucked) and pisses off Carol as you’d expect. Simon bonds with Carol by recovering his artistic side and drawing her naked (a trick missed in Old Jack’s life: “let me do a self-worth recovery drawing for you. Drop ‘em, blossom”)…
And Melvin’s illness becomes sufficiently contained to allow for new social skills and quite possibly new love… Cured. Not the licence of age: the freedom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder reordered.
Okay. I loved the performances. The clashing of styles is fun as Nicholson is out-classed by Hunt and out-subtled (really) by Kinnear. But the film is too long and the convenience of things cured (O.C.D. and even asthma) strips the plot of reality and leaves the stars – magnificent as they are – dancing on an empty stage.
It’s on Netflix. Have a look. It went down very well with the Academy…
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