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As Good As It Gets (1997)

Brace yourself for Melvin

Directed by:

James L. Brooks

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 139 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

On DVD

Country: United States

Meet Melvin Udall. He’s a racist, sexist, homophobic anti-Semite who’s cruel to animals, rude to his neighbours and suffers from chronic obsessive compulsive disorder. He’s also strangely likable. What a topsy-turvy world it is that we live in.

This is the movie that squared-up to ‘Titanic’ for the top gongs of 1997. While it features none of its rival’s OTT visuals, vomit-inducing love story or great big sinking ship, it managed to scoop both the Best Actor Oscar for Jack Nicholson as Melvin and Best Actress for Helen Hunt as the struggling single mum who discovers an unlikely new friend. I know which one I prefer.

The tale follows Melvin’s gradual – though certainly not complete – journey from social outcast to near public acceptability. When gay neighbour Simon (Greg Kinnear) has seven shades of snot beaten out of him by burglars, Melv finds himself pressurised into helping out – first by looking after Simon’s scrawny mutt Verdell, and then by agreeing to drive him to Boston for a reunion with his ostracized parents.

Along for the ride comes Carol (Hunt), who by this stage feels obliged to help out, having seen Melvin voluntarily pay for her asthmatic son’s spiralling medical bills. Not that it was an entirely selfless act on Melvin’s part – he only wants Carol’s son fighting fit so that she’s free to go into work and serve him his bacon and eggs every lunchtime.

There’s a sit-com feel to much of the movie, which isn’t meant as a criticism by any means. If anything, that raises it above the sort of humour you find in most big screen comedies these days, and it’s certainly streets ahead of Nicholson’s more recent attempt at squeezing laughs out of audiences in ‘Anger Management’ with Adam Sandler. There’s a biting cruelty to much of the script, but there’s also an underlying humanity and warmth about the way these three mismatched characters come to find themselves stuck with each other’s company.

Running at an hour and 20 minutes it’s much longer than it really needs to be, which means that after a couple of watches the DVD starts to get a little tiresome. But for a first-time viewing, if it’s a (fairly) recent comedy you’re after, you won’t do much better.

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It's Got: An hilariously effeminate Cuba Gooding Jr.

It Needs: To be cut down a little in length.

DVD Extras Director’s commentary, theatrical trailer, and filmographies. Not a lot, given that the director even says in his commentary that there were a lot of deleted scenes – so why aren’t any of them on the DVD? DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

About Schmidt, Anger Management, One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Summary

A simultaneously thoughtful and razor-sharp comedy showcase for Nicholson and Hunt’s talents.

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