As Good as It Gets – Art 1/5 Ent 3/5 Worth 2/5
There’s a word that comes to mind while watching this movie. It’s “preposterous“. As Good as It Gets is ironically dark, in so far as it aims for an acerbic edge with a modern character study of three social outcasts – an obsessive compulsive bigoted and reclusive author, a scatterbrained and naive single mother, a fragile gay artist – and with the utmost cruelty, it insults all three of them, and the audience, but then tries to end on a happy note. Played with disaffected nonchalance by the overwhelmingly sentimental Helen Hunt, the story takes on a whimsical and even tone of redemption and – this is where I throw up – “learning to love” a vulgar and psychologically tortured sugar daddy in Jack Nicholson. This is the sort of romantic storytelling that would have appeared excessive to Viking raiders carrying the prettiest women by the hair back to their boats.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think the film fails on acting, just Ms. Hunt’s acting, or what passes for it in an inexplicably popular ’90s sit com co-starring Paul Reiser. Jack is outstanding in this picture. He drops the ball once in a while, and has a penchant for going goofy, balls to the walls, like Al Pacino – wrapped up in his own weather system – he has the gift, and you can’t blame him for not having his A game always. I mean, he’s not Daniel Day-Lewis or anything. But he deserved the Oscar, no question. Greg Kinnear’s trip from Late Late Night television to the silver screen was also an astounding success. Cuba Gooding, Jr. throws in a funny short role himself. The characters are all interesting and have interesting peccadilloes that make the movie worth sitting through, and some of the one-liners are pure sardonic joy.
However, it is a really rather manipulative film, off-kilter and unaware of its own meaning, to have the inclination to lift the audience up despite writing its characters with pity and contempt. Unsurprisingly screenwriter Mark Andrus went on to write a bunch of garbage nobody cares about. Helen Hunt portrays (with every bit as much bearing and normalcy as a stock Cameron Crowe character dripping with soulless nonsensical soliloquy and manufactured emotion) a fried woman who keeps her apparent easiness with drama and abuse close to her chest, letting down her guard as soon as a disturbed curmudgeon offers her money. In the end, she finds it in herself to embrace an ogre who brought her on a trip to get her to screw a gay guy, because Jack wants to turn him back to the home team … and that’s because Jack’s character fears the away team on the same one day road trip. I know some people are really fucking stupid, and will get with just about anybody, but why should that be uplifting and charming and not darkly, insidiously comic in a pathetic way?