Winning an Oscar is a great achievement. Winning two puts you in an elite club. Winning three makes you a bona fide screen legend. In 1998, Jack Nicholson joined the three-timers club when he lifted the Best Actor Oscar for As Good As It Gets.
Even if he hadn’t, Nicholson would still be regarded as one of the all-time great movie stars of his generation, so the win feels justified even if you don’t particularly care for the film. As Good As It Gets is fairly typical middlebrow Oscar fare, but it’s smartly written and well acted enough to mostly carry you along for the ride – until a final act romantic turn that undermines what came before almost irreparably.
Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a misanthropic loner who seems to be afflicted with OCD. In between churning out improbably lucrative romantic novels, he spends his time making life miserable for everybody in his orbit – particularly his gay neighbour Greg Kinnear. When Kinnear suffers a brutal beating during a robbery, his agent/friend, played by Cuba Gooding Jr, strong-arms Melvin into taking care of his dog adorable Verdell, who he had previously attempted to dispose of via the building’s garbage chute.
While having his grinch-like heart thawed by the canine, Melvin also makes a connection with struggling waitress Helen Hunt, the only person in his life who appears to have any tolerance for him. When he pays for her sick son to finally receive proper medical treatment, she’s overcome with gratitude, but also afraid for what he might want in return.
The inevitable romance that follows is by far the weakest element of the film, and not only for the 26 year age-gap between Nicholson and Hunt. While the film somewhat redeems Nicholson’s character for his awful behaviour, it never convinces that he and Hunt are a good match for each other romantically, and when she finally succumbs at the end, it feels more like a weary admission of defeat than a giddy leap into true love.
If anything, the most realistic romances in the film are the platonic ones between Melvin and Verdell, and Hunt and Kinnear. Nicholson’s scenes with the pooch are delightful, and it’s easy to see how the uncomplicated love of an animal could be healthy for him. Likewise, as a single woman in New York, a gay best friend is exactly the emotional support Hunt needs, and the blossoming friendship between the two in the movie’s final act is far more charming and believable than what happens between Hunt and Nicholson.
On this week’s podcast, we take a look back at the film and discuss our highlights and lowlights – including 90s movie gay syndrome, some deeply unnecessary Helen Hunt boob, the mysterious vogue for hand-sketching naked women in 1997 movies and much more. We also pitch some sequel ideas, brainstorm some drinking games and check in with our listeners for their reactions.
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Next week, we’re launching into our annual festive season with a classic cult Christmas horror movie. Until then – happy listening and remember, a dog is for life, not for waste disposal.