Re-View: AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997)

By Josh Muchly

Upshot: A romantic comedy from James L. Brooks and Mark Andrus, AS GOOD AS IT GETS stars Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall, a misanthropic author in New York, Helen Hunt as Carol Connelly, a single mother and waitress at Melvin’s favorite restaurant, and Greg Kinnear as Simon Bishop, a gay artist and Melvin’s neighbor. After Simon is assaulted in a burglary, the three of them form an unlikely friendship and an unexpected romance blossoms between Melvin and Carol.

Rundown: In my opinion, AS GOOD AS IT GETS is one of the defining “dramedies” and a crown achievement in the films of the ’90s.

The picture seems almost prophetic in hindsight: since it’s release we’ve seen gay marriage become legal, a non-white candidate become president, and a female presidential candidate win the popular vote … The lessons Melvin learns — tolerance, acceptance, and living outside his clean, neat, solitary bubble — became a reality for many American in the past two decades; unfortunately, they became a battle cry for others. 

Still, AS GOOD AS IT GETS feels refreshingly nuanced. Some of the dialogue is absolutely appalling by today’s standards and might never be allowed in a mainstream film. But the events take place in a time when even a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, loud-mouthed bigot can be both condemned and redeemed. The insults Melvin hurls at others might be difficult to hear, but are never meant to be accepted as OK.

Yes, even someone like Melvin Udall is in need of love and can be transformed by it. Melvin is outrageously offensive in word and deed, yet through the longsuffering and honesty of those around him, he becomes more understanding and kind.

This all brought gloriously to live by the acting, which is, of course, top-tier: both Nicholson and Hunt won an Academy Award for Acting in a Leading Role and Kinnear was nominated for Supporting Actor.

Highpoint: Many might agree that Nicholson and/or Hunt are the highpoint of the film; however, I argue it is Greg Kinnear who

makes the film. His performance comes as close to an embodiment of “the meek inheriting the Earth” as possible. Carol is the force motivating Melvin’s transformation, but Simon Bishop is central to it: without Kinnear’s grace, without his charm, without his subdued sadness, the character’s effect on Malcolm may feel inauthentic.

Low point: I’m not sure if the age difference between Melvin and Carol was written to mirror the real-life age difference between Nicholson and Hunt (26 years), but, regardless, it requires no small amount of effort to ignore. It’s a testament to the performances that we sometimes forget about it.

Rating: 6/7

Post-Script: While I was re-watching AS GOOD AS IT GETS, I was reminded of bits and pieces from the film’s trailer which I must have seen in my youth no less than a hundred times. I didn’t realize until just now how much of an impression the trailer made on me, both as an advertisement for the picture itself and as craft per se.

I have posted it below. (Note: it contains offensive language.)

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