Blast From The Past: As Good As It Gets
1997 was apparently a unique year when it came to films because the winner for “Best Picture” also happened to be the highest grossing movie of the year. Seeing as I usually cover each of those separately, I decided to cover another award-winning film from that year. As Good As It Gets took home the awards for best actor and best actress in a leading role, and as I revisited this movie, I was reminded of why it did. It contains a stellar cast with Jack Nicholson as writer Melvin Udall, Helen Hunt as waitress Carol Connelly, and Greg Kinnear as artist and neighbor Simon Bishop.
The movie begins with an elderly neighbor scowling as Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall comes into the hallway. He has an issue with this cute little dog that is about to relieve itself in the hallway, and he subsequently shoves it down a garbage chute. He has an offensive conversation with the dog’s owner and fellow neighbor, Kinnear’s Simon Bishop, and Udall goes to the same restaurant he visits everyday. It is here that he interacts with his favorite waitress, Helen Hunt’s Carol Connelly, who seems to be the only one capable of dealing with his abrupt nature. Melvin clearly has obsessive compulsive disorder through his insistence on plastic silverware and his avoidance of all cracks on the sidewalk, but he also largely dislikes the general public. That dislike is challenged when Simon is attacked in his home and Udall is bullied into caring for the dog, Verdell, in light of his hospital stay. Over time, Udall becomes fond of the dog, and Verdell becomes fond of him as well. He even begins to avoid cracks on the sidewalk like Melvin on their walks. With that change of emotion and his routine threatened when Carol stops coming to work, Melvin finds himself at a personal crossroads. It leads him to the uncomfortable dilemma of caring for the people around him and how to proceed in light of it.
Before I can delve into this film, I have to say how cute that little dog is that plays Verdell. Seriously, it’s such an expressive animal, and I love the way they use the dog to highlight the internal changes in Melvin. Truly, this film follows the old rule of showing instead of telling. At no point do you need to hear out loud that Melvin has a disorder; we can tell by the way he locks the door a certain number of times, has a specific ritual for washing his hands, and avoids cracks on the sidewalk in New York of all places. In that same way, we can witness the changes in him, and it starts with the little dog that he initially puts down the garbage chute at the beginning of the film.
Everything about this story is gold in my opinion. While Udall is obviously the focus of the story and our “hero” as it were, Carol and Simon each have their own journeys to embark upon. Carol’s son has been sick for so long that caring for him is her sole purpose. When he starts to become well, though, she has to face what other things are missing from her life. Simultaneously, Simon loses everything after his attack and robbery, which leads him to his own path of self-examination and self-discovery. All of these outcasts, as it were, end up unexpectedly finding and helping each other. It’s not your conventional love story by any means, and I personally love how the film highlights their awkward conversations and complicated emotions.
Even as I write this review, I really cannot fault anything about the film. They use each character well, and even twenty years later, a lot about this film holds up well. The performances given by Hunt and Nicholson in particular are some of their best, and Kinnear’s presence and humor makes the trio complete. While there are definitely a fair share of movies from 1997 that I remember and love, this one is definitely one of the best from that year. If you’re looking for a heartfelt film with humor sprinkled throughout, be sure to revisit the 1997 favorite As Good As It Gets.