Up until this point, we've been exploring some of Jack Nicholson's most noteworthy roles. Yes, I skipped of his portrayal of the Joker, but I figured 'Batman' belonged on another list somewhere.
One thing for certain is that he tends to lean towards tough, often playing characters who one wouldn't dare mess with. But what happens when we take that tough guy routine and try to strip it away from him? 'As Good as It Gets' may be the best result of this, showing us that even the tough guy can have a sweet side - even if he does have to learn it.
Melvin Udall (Nicholson) is an obsessive compulsive writer of romantic novels. Despite his fans seeing his writing as great material, in actuality, Melvin is a rude bigot who seems pretty set in his ways, even if it does mean alienating people along the way. However, when his gay neighbor, Simon (Greg Kinnear) is brutally beaton, he soon finds himself looking after Simon's dog, and developing a soft spot. This is only eventually magnified when he starts falling for the only waitress who will tolerate his crap, Carol (Helen Hunt) whose whole world is her ever-ill son, Spencer (Jesse James).
As the film unfolds, for as much as we probably hate the character of Melvin (introduced as a homophobic touch-me-not man who puts irritating puppies in garbage chutes) he starts to grow on us over time. The more he comes to terms with certain things, the more we appreciate his willingness to learn - even if every time he learns something, he fudges it up with a whole new lesson he needs in life. And that's kinda what the movie is about; one intolerable man slowly learning what it takes to be tolerable, if only for a date.
This one hasn't exactly been swept under the rug, but it seems to only ever be mentioned in passing anymore. It's not something that seems to stand out to people as one of Jack's best performances, even if it was one of three of his wins (the others being 'Terms of Endearment' and 'Cuckoo's Nest') out of twelve total nominations. Hunt also won for her role in this, and deservedly so. The chemistry between these two is actually pretty interesting, providing us with somewhat of a Devil meets Angel scenario.
The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Kinnear), Original Screenplay, Editing and Original Score. The problem that year was that it went up against 'Titanic', and history indicates what an Academy legend that one is (11 wins out of 14 nominations). But if you were looking for a much more down to earth romantic story for the time, this beat out 'Titanic' by quite a lot in my humble opinion. Sorry to the fans, but 'Titanic' was good for so many other reasons - the romantic story was very standard.
This is, however, one of those movies that I wonder would fly with so many people today. It's not quite on par with something like 'American Beauty' (a great film for the time which has aged horribly), but there are bits and pieces of dialogue that kinda make you wonder, and a large part of that is homophobic. With that, however, one needs to see it through to fully judge, as so much of it is about Melvin becoming a better person. So I'm gonna go ahead and still recommend it, based on that. And hey, if nothing else works, bear in mind this comes to us from director James L. Brooks - the guy who gave us 'The Simpsons' along with Matt Groening and Sam Simon.