New York neuroses often have been, and most likely often will
be, served up as casually as bacon or sausage and eggs.
The romance novelist Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) has an
obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Doesn't almost everybody in
New York, for that matter?) He's the kind of man who says
exactly what he thinks and is not averse to throwing hurtful
truths at people directly into their faces. Why shouldn't he
make them face the truth about themselves, since he does the
same thing to himself constantly? His mind is as sharp as his
tongue and he believes that others should wake up and smell
the burnt coffee too. He deals with the contemptible world
around him in the only way it deserves to be dealt with, and
people always cringe when they see him enter their space.
(editor's note: this man sounds awfully familiar to me.)
One of the few joys he allows himself in his disciplined
schedule is a morning repast at 11:00 A.M. in the local cafe.
Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt), a single mother with an
asthmatic son, is a waitress there and one of the few capable
of dealing with Mr. Udall's sarcasm, wit, rudeness, and
offensiveness. She usually just tries to ignore him as much as
possible and serve him his usual meal.
Back home in his West Village apartment, Udall prefers to be
left alone by everyone, including the gay painter Simon Nye
(Greg Kinnear), who lives across the hall with his tiny dog
Verdell. Even the dog has a kind of neurosis, it would seem,
because he likes pissing against the corridor walls of the
apartment building. There's no accounting for likes and
There's no reason in the world these three should ever
develop a relationship with each other and yet this is what
happens, as we find out. The lives of these characters and
everyone in their world become fair fodder for this sensitive,
tragic, and humorous film. It's a lot like life, or a sensitive sit-
com (figure that one out).
Director/writer/producer James L. Brooks scores once again,
this time with a tale about what drives the cosmopolitan
crazies who are the inhabitants of the Big Apple. Impressed
by Mark Andrus' script a few years ago, Brooks' schedule
didn't offer the opportunity to produce it until now. Nicholson
gives a performance so amazingly subtle that many might
mistake its remarkable quality and think it's just another
brilliant Nicholson performance. He always delivers the
goods, but this time around the character is trickier to deal
with because of his endless built-in complexities, but
Nicholson fits the man's skin so perfectly that they seem to be
one. The same goes for Hunt, who scores another big notch
on her already impressive credits, and Kinnear, in his most
noticeable performance to date. Cuba Gooding Jr. isn't bad
either, as a switch hitter for the gallery scene.
The people in this movie, as well as their surroundings and the
events, ring so true that anyone who's lived in New York will
feel they recognize these people, these streets, these houses
and these lives. That's as good as it gets.
© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett