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"A Comedy From the Heart That Goes For the Throat"
As Good As It Gets is a 1997 Rom Com from the mind of James L. Brooks, and starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear. Featuring a relatively small cast, the crux of the story revolves around a reclusive novelist named Melvin Udall: his harassment of his neighbour, Simon (Kinnear) and his
fixation dependence on Carol Connolly (Hunt), a down on her luck single mom with a perennially-ill son. The main characters are as follows:
- Melvin Udall (Nicholson): a reclusive, Obsessive-Compulsive bigot and, in classic Nicholson style, the name at the top of the marquee; Udall also happens to be his publisher's highest-selling novelist (62 books, on par with Stephen King, for a sense of scale), and chronically dependent on waitress Carol Connolly, who waits on him--patiently--in the Manhattan restaurant at which he dines daily.
- Carol Connolly (Hunt): a beleaguered single mom, working a comfortable (if somewhat unfulfilling) waitress job at a Manhattan diner. Melvin's chosen waitress--for little other reason than his OCD-fuelled dependence on her, and, at least in his mind, her willingness to put up with him. Lives with her mother and chronically-ill son, Spencer, in Brooklyn.
- Simon Bishop (Kinnear): Melvin's neighbor. A painter whose two passions in life are his beloved Brussels-Griffon, Verdell, and painting. His dreams get dashed violently when a street ruffian and his friends rob Simon and beat him within an inch of his life. Hereafter, while Simon's away getting treated, Verdell the dog falls under the care of Melvin--who has trouble adjusting. Then gets over it. Then has trouble dealing with the absence in his life once Verdell goes back to Simon.
From here, Rule of Drama ensues. Being a James L. Brooks production, natch, it intersperses all the emotional weight with heaping doses of awesome & heartwarming. Also, the soundtrack, by no less than Hans Zimmer, is also the kitty's pajamas.
- Anti-Hero: Melvin is an homophobic, racist and misanthropic man who puts off the neighbors in his apartment building and nearly everyone else with whom he comes into contact. However, he becomes more gentle towards the end.
- Berserk Button: Carol is as patient as one can humanly be when dealing with Melvin, but when he makes a snarky comment that everyone eventually will die, including her sick son, she chews him out in public, with a Precision F-Strike (as an noun towards Melvin). It is such a shock that even Melvin is rendered speechless, and quietly apologizes.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Simon's manager Frank likes to play as if he's kind, caring, and attentive, but he consistently avoids actually having to do anything to be helpful himself, going so far as to threaten Melvin into forcing him to be the good guy.
- Camp Gay: Melvin certainly seems to think Simon is one. Aside from a positively Squicky attachment to his dog, he's fairly straight up.
- Although he is rather close with Frank, and even admits to Melvin he had no interest in Carol beyond their night at the hotel.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Everyone!
- Simon's back story involved his childhood pastime of painting his mother in the nude. His dad didn't approve.
- We never find out much about Melvin before the events of the film, but he admits in one scene that his father used to beat him on the hands with a yardstick whenever Melvin made a mistake playing the piano. Also, his father didn't leave his room for eleven years.
- Carol's past is mostly an Informed Ability, revolving around her current Single Mom-ness and her attachment to her son. The earliest date she mentions is Spencer being six months old, and even then, it's an afterthought to the big problem of his illness.
- Frank briefly references having one, but he may just be pretending to be a Scary Black Man to keep Melvin from picking on Simon so much.
- Deadpan Snarker: Pretty much every character in the film but especially Melvin.
- Disney Dog Fight: A twist on this is done between Verdell (the dog) and Simon and Melvin, as Melvin was trying not to win to cheer Simon up.
- Dysfunction Junction
- Gayngst: Lampshaded when straight Melvin asks Simon after all the horrible things that have happened to him if he thinks his life would have been easier if he were straight, which causes Simon to ask back: "Do you consider your life easy?"
- Good Is Not Nice: Melvin and how!!
- Hates Being Touched: Melvin
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Melvin. Especially once they get back from Maryland.
- No Medication for Me: A rare and awesome subversion in Melvin's speech complimenting Carol.
Melvin: "I've got this, what--ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills, very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I'm using the word "hate" here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never... well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills."
- Oscar Bait: For reasons that have mostly to do with Jack Nicholson. Oh, it also won for Best Actor and Best Actress.
- Pet Homosexual: Simon is a Deconstruction of this character type. Essentially what happens when the Pet Homosexual has a Heroic BSOD and starts biting back.
- Precision F-Strike: Three times, but especially this:
Carol: Fucking HMO bastard pieces of shit!
- Shown Their Work: Yes, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, though it manifests differently in each case, is presented fairly spot-on here.
- Title Drop: Melvin says "What if this is as good as it gets?" in a psychiatrist's waiting room.
- Underdressed for the Occasion: Melvin on his dinner date with Carol.
- Why Do You Hate the Dog?: Deconstructed.