An old cranky man reminiscent of ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’, with the characteristic side dish of misanthropy, misogyny, germophobia, and homophobia – the perfect eerie mishmash of human eccentricities, you would say, wouldn’t you? But this very same eerie mishmash was the luminary of the 70th Academy Awards. Wondering how? Let’s get the story straight.
Melvin Udall is a 60-year-old bestselling novelist from NYC. However, in his personal life he could possibly be perceived as the psycho-est person in the whole city – he has OCD, he avoids stepping on the sidewalk cracks, he avoids even the slightest passing brush-offs from the pedestrians, he is superstitious, eats breakfast in the same restaurant using his own use-n-throw plastic utensils, and he can react to a simple knock on the door by muttering angrily “Son-of-a-bitch, pansy assed stool-pusher”. The freaky thing is, the list doesn’t end.
The only thing that can still (although faintly) reflect his contact with his own humane self is probably the fact that he is much civil (and docile) toward Carol Connelly, the waitress in the restaurant. Also, Carol is perhaps the only person in NYC who can stomach his eccentricities.
Melvin’s gay and artist neighbor, Simon Bishop, is assaulted during a burglary and his agent intimidates Melvin into fostering Simon’s little dog, Verdell, until Simon is back on his foot. No brownie points for guessing Melvin isn’t comfortable with the ‘dog eared monkey’ or the ‘ugly smelly fuck’ loitering around his house. However, as the miracles do happen, Melvin inexplicably warms up to Verdell and becomes his lone companion for days to come.
Unfortunately (for Melvin), Verdell’s ‘fudge-packer’ parent is back on his foot and wants Verdell back. Melvin is unhappy, and so is Verdell, who is probably the second living being who has ‘warm’ feelings for Melvin. To make the grief caused by Verdell’s separation more severe, Carol decides to get a new job close to her house in Brooklyn to care for her severely asthmatic son, Spence.
This is too much for Melvin and he takes things in his hands – obviously such Melvins don’t consult with their Carols. Using his contacts Melvin arranges for Spence to receive the best treatment with all expenses paid and in return expects Carol to return to her old job so he can have his breakfast.
Disturbed with the assault and Verdell’s growing predisposition toward Melvin, Simon has lost his creative muse and is unable to make or sell art, which has effectively rendered him bankrupt. His agent advices him to borrow money from his parents in Baltimore – a trip that Melvin has to link up as the driver. To lessen the awkwardness Melvin invites Carol to tag along, and she reluctantly agrees.
The trip brings the three closer and the romantic sparks start to ignite between Melvin and Carol. However, it’s not so easy for Carol – because it’s Melvin. For example, on a romantic date Melvin refers to Carol’s dress as ‘house dress’ (not even knowing he insulted her) and Carol is forced to ‘demand’ a compliment from him. To settle the tension the writer in Melvin pays her a very thoughtful compliment by saying “You make me want to be a better man”. Enamored by his rare display of vulnerability Carol asks him why he brought her here and proceeds to unequivocally tell him that she will say yes to anything he says. Melvin, nervous with this rising romance between them, blurts out that he wasn’t comfortable leaving her at the hotel room with Simon thinking they might end up having sex – thereby BAMM’ing the whole romantic moment.
After this there are more ups and downs (except there are only downs), but in the end Melvin discovers the secret of staying fairly humane and Carol discovers the adorable loving man (the reason why I am crazy about Melvin) behind the man as the world knows and… well, you know how it would end.
Nominated for seven Oscars, ‘As Good As It Gets’ ended up winning the two crown-awards – best actor and best actress.
Jack Nicholson, the actor proved yet time and again one of the most versatile and powerful actors of all generations, surprises us – not really, but still – with this ingeniously power-packed performance. His craft has brought forth the ‘horror of a human’ and still made us fall in love with him – something only the Jack Nicholsons of Hollywood can do. His captivating flair has shone through many films, such as The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, Terms of Endearment, and many more. I have fallen in love with this actor many times, and I still think this is NOT just as good as it gets. It gets even better every time.
Helen Hunt, previously known only for the TV series ‘Mad About You’ and a disaster film ‘Twister’, emerged as a sensitive actress and later went on to star in many critically acclaimed films, such as ‘What Women Want’ and ‘Cast Away’. Her portrayal of the bent-under-hardships waitress who is confused about her feelings for this ‘weird’ man – whether to stay away from him or to appreciate the periodically evolving goodness in him – won audiences’ hearts too. Making your presence felt under the huge shadow of a mighty actor playing a mighty character is a difficult task and Helen played her part most dexterously.
Jack and Helen were awesome – no doubt – but there was someone else whose presence could never be missed. In fact this presence enhanced Jack and Helen’s performance. That another someone was the screenplay.
The screenplay, unambiguously one of the most well written screenplays, had many memorable dialogues. Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks, the later also being the director, wrote this film after employing that part of the brain that controls the sarcasm, quit wit, and dry humor. And the result! Oh, I am too short a human to talk about the greatness of this writing. Let the script talk for itself.
A woman (Melvin’s fan): How do you write women so well?
Melvin: I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.
Melvin: People who talk in metaphors oughta shampoo my crotch.
Melvin: (Introducing Carol and Simon) Carol the waitress, Simon the fag.
Carol: When you first entered the restaurant, I thought you were handsome… and then, of course, you spoke.
Melvin: Where do they teach you to talk like this? In some Panama City “Sailor wanna hump-hump” bar, or is it getaway day and your last shot at his whiskey? Sell crazy someplace else; we’re all stocked up here.
Melvin: If it’s election night and you’re excited because some fudge-packer you dated has been elected the first queer President of the United States… and he’s going to put you up in Camp David and you just want to share the moment with someone… don’t knock… not on this door. Not for anything. Got me? Sweetheart?
The list is beautifully endless. The movie is such a feast of wit and quirkiness that your soul feels like you just had the most delicious meal that there could be – and trust me, there seldom are such lip-smacking feasts.