James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets (Columbia Tristar) is a truly excruciating experience; a dreadful film with the Academy Awards to prove it.
Written by Brooks and Mark Andrus, it’s the story of Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson), an outwardly racist, homophobic, dog-hating writer with lovable kook etched into every eye brow flaring outburst, who never fails to outrage all around him. His neighbor Simon (Greg Kinnear) is a perpetually sad, gay artist whose dog he must look after when Simon is beaten during a robbery, and the object of his desire is a waitress named Carol (Helen Hunt, who won an Oscar for her performance), a scrappy single mom whose pining for a love life and raising an asthmatic son. It’s not long before we discover that Nicholson is just a big sweetie inside (awwwww!) who’s wrestling with his own demon of obsessive compulsive disorder. This is TV movie stuff that drowns you in skin-deep psychology and self-obsessed characters, and while it might have not been annoying as a shorter feature, at 139 minutes it’s positively overbearing.
Nicholson is on autopilot for most of the film (best actor???), Hunt plays the good woman well, Kinnear is just fine, Cuba Gooding Jr. over-acts to the point of absurdity, and Brooks directs each scene with a desire to elicit an awwwww from the audience – the film constantly cutting away to reaction shots of Kinnear’s rheumy eyed dog. There’s a smarmy moral correctness afoot here (gay artist Kinnear is saved from suicide by an artistic epiphany when he sees the naked back of Hunt), that leaves you wondering how this headache-inducing film gathered so many honors.