As Good as It Gets

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 dislikes.

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