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As Good As It Gets

Starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear
Screenplay by James L. Brooks
Directed by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks

IN SHORT: Cranky hated it with such a passion he knows you probably won't.

As Good As It Gets is the story of three people of passing acquaintance who, due to an event I can't spill, find themselves drawn closer and closer together. All three have lives that, in one way or another, are so clinically depressing that at least one character wonders if (his life) is, indeed, "as good as it gets." The entire point of the movie, of these three characters coming into contact with each other is to say, "no, it isn't."

Jack Nicholson dominates the flick as Melvin, an anti-social writer of romance novels; an obsessive-compulsive character, who won't step on cracks, doesn't like to be touched and has a thing for plastic silverware. Melvin spits out insulting and totally un-P.C. comments to almost everyone he meets. The first 20 minutes you'll think of Nicholson's Joker, though just a bit more this side of sane. The role enables Nicholson to mug for the camera and do everything that Nicholson impersonators love to impersonate.

One of Melvin's obsessions is that he always eats breakfast at the same table in the same Manhattan restaurant, and prefers to have the same waitress, Carol (Helen Hunt) wait on him. Carol is a lonely solo mom, living with her mother and raising a son who is chronically asthmatic, suffering from severe allergies and recurrent near fatal fevers. Her dates are so few and far between that she can't remember the last time she had a boyfriend to hold hands with. Carol can deal with Melvin's barbs by shooting him down with a look, and sometimes a warning. This allows Hunt to mug for the camera, too.

Melvin's neighbor, two stair up the landing, is a gay painter named Simon (Greg Kinnear). Simon likes to party. He's overly sensitive and just enough of a poof that a nod of the head is enough to make the audience laugh. Simon has a dog called Verdell, who is too damned adorable and mugs shamelessly for the camera. Simon also has an art dealer named Frank (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who defends his client from Melvin's attacks and an acquaintance named Carl, who hires street hustlers to pose for the him. Simon is about to discover that he has no real friends at all. And I won't tell you why. Yet.

There is nothing wrong with any of the performances. Indeed, they are strong enough to distract you from the obvious fact that the script is a sloppy piece of work. Supporting characters appear and disappear with the same regularity as a substantial number of plot lines. Director James L. Brooks, who is probably the best of the living TV comedy directors, knows exactly which buttons to push to keep the audience laughing. Just as you become aware of how pitiful these lives are, Melvin drops another fine tuned barb (or Carol shoots him down with a look or a retort) to let the tension out. It happens with such regularity that most of the crowd Cranky sat with walked out of As Good As It Gets, thinking they had seen a warm comedy. Overly long -- at two hours eighteen it felt to Cranky like three -- but in general, enjoyable.

And, frankly, Cranky wouldn't have caught how sloppy it all is had he not gone back for a second helping of the flick. You see, the buttons in the piece which make you laugh depress the heck out of Cranky, so I had to see it a second time, with a real audience, just to make sure. Not only is the tale sloppy from the supporting story POV, the relationship in time of each scene to the next is screwy as well. Characters speak with knowledge of events or occurrences that they could not have knowledge of. You'll also notice quite a bit of offscreen dialogue, to explain away the gaps in story logic. Feh.

What makes me nuts is that there is no way I can tell you what's wrong without ruining the viewing experience. If I don't give away the surprises, you'll probably have a pretty good time. It's a Hobson's Choice, so I'll split the baby.


Remember Carl, the friend who hires the gay hustler to pose for Simon? Not only is he never introduced, he disappears right after the hire. Then, one of the hustler's friends beats the crap out of the Simon, causing severe scarring to his face and leaving him with $61,000 in hospital bills and no insurance to pay it. While he recovers, Melvin gets stuck with the dog. The dog prefers Melvin. Thus, the two men develop a cautious friendship. Melvin gets involved in Carol's personal life as well, but I'm not giving that one away.

You all know that no one can pull any medical stuff over on Cranky 'cuz I've told you I've already lived it. You can't work a wheelchair up and down a pair of steps, as Simon does to get to Melvin's apartment door. A man with no insurance will not get a private hospital room. An artist with a cast on his drawing arm (according to Simon's dialog) can't do the detailed work he's inspired to do unless he rips part of the cast off. Yet, we see dozens of detailed pencil sketches that Simon has done in a fit of inspiration, with the cast on. All details which won't affect your viewing one way or another, 'cuz the cast mugs and tosses jokes off to continually distract you.

That just ticks me off. There's more -- subplots involving Carol's son, the police investigation, Simon's relations with his parents and his accountant/manager just up and disappear. Some are explained away in off screen dialog. Some just vanish. Sloppy.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for But As Good As It Gets, he would have paid . . .


If you don't get ticked off by detail, or have the wrong buttons pushed, you'll probably enjoy the jokes. But As Good As It Gets is long and is greatly in need of the fast forward button.

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