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Movie Reviews

As Good As It Gets  

In a way, we are all like this. Every one of us has some sort of obsession, and I don`t mean the sorts of obsessions which can be called hobbies. I mean strange little quirks, or habits. My friend, for example, tells me that I always seem to say 'Oh well' whenever I`m stuck for something to say. And she herself has some perhaps even more pronounced oddities than even I. But at least we are somewhat aware of them; and can live with them. Some people, the obsessive compulsives of our world, find it rather difficult. And that includes the Jack Nicholson character in As Good as It Gets.

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Nicholson plays a famous writer of plup romance novels, who is very rich, yet very, very eccentric. He is the ultimate exaggeration of everything we know (or think we know) about obsessive compulsive people. He has a habit of flicking his light switches and door locks five times every time he is about to turn the light on or off or lock or unlock the door. He uses a bar of soap only once before it hits the wastebasket and is replaced by another one. And he also is so terrified of germs that he wears gloves almost all the time, and takes his own sanitary plastic utensils when he goes to a restaurant. If this were all the problems he had, he would be a somewhat amusing yet sympathetic character. But there is one liability : he is also about the biggest jerk on the planet.

The whole world is his enemy, from his gay neighbour (Greg Kinnear), and his dog, to the other customers of the restaurant that he goes to every morning. Even the waitress who serves him (Helen Hunt) can barely tolerate his presence. He isn`t merely a pest, but a character with the most ingenious and often barbaric of insults. There are two scenes near the beginning which truly demonstrate how much his words can hurt, one with each of these characters, people who do not deserve such abuse. We hear the verbal flair of Nicholson`s character`s, but we see his victims' pain.

Yet suddenly he is forced to deal with other people in ways which he possibly avoided all his life. The neighbour is beat up in a robbery, and Nicholson is forced to take care of the dog. We know how bad he`s treated the dog before, yet when worst comes to worst, the dog starts to adore him more than his own owner, and there is a great moment when Nicholson tries to deny to himself that he loves that dog. Also, he ends up doing an even more wonderful thing for the waitress, when he helps pay for her severely asthmatic son`s medical care. And soon it turns out that these people might be his ticket to a better life -- that`s if he doesn`t screw it up first!

Jack Nicholson was certainly more worthy of a third Oscar win than I first thought, before viewing this film. I had thought he had enough nominations for a lifetime, but he is actually fairly interesting here. He doesn`t play either a hero or a confident man. Behind that aggression and strangeness is a very pathetic and vulnerable person. He is not able to deal with the world or its people without retreating into himself - it`s tragic more than anything else. He is one of those who feels helpless and hopeless due to a mental illness, and on that score, he does become more sympathetic, for those who are willing to keep an open mind. And when you think about it, his nasty side seems more automatic than sincere, since it turns out that he does have a funny way of showing that he cares. The waitress and the neighbour are constantly bothered and angry at him, yet are blindsided when he does something which turns out to be extremely generous.

The only silly part of this film is the romance which grows between Nicholson and Hunt. It`s a bit foolish to see this sixty-five year old romancing someone more than half his age, yet this is typical of Hollywood. When Hunt describes her first impression of Nicholson as handsome, it gets a bad laugh - from me, anyway. Yet Hunt is still good, as a understandably bitter person who only has hardship in her life, until she meets an unexpected saviour in Nicholson, and a good friend in Kinnear. Kinnear is good, especially since he does not play up the gay component of his character. He is a pretty normal guy, who loves his dog, and who suffers from artist`s block, especially after his beating.

Well, I guess I made the movie sound sad. It is, in it`s subtle ways, but it is also a great comedy of life, friendship, and healing.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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