As Good As It Gets (1997 with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt)

USA / 1997

Dir: James L Brooks
Writers: James L Brooks, Mark Andrus

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr, Yeardley Smith

As Meet the Family proved, the return of a legend can be formidable. And just as Robert De Niro rehabilitated himself with a display of comic firepower, so Jack Nicholson returned to the fold in style. He plays Melvin Udall, a writer of romance novels whose real life is anything but loving. Tormented by an obsessive-compulsive disorder, he finds small pleasures in destroying the life of his gay neighbour Simon (Greg Kinnear) and terrorising the diners at his local restaurant, where only one waitress, Carol (Helen Hunt), will serve him.

When Simon is beaten up and hospitalised, Melvin is forced to look after his dog, and reconsider his misanthropy. When Carol skips work to nurse her asthmatic son, Melvin arranges medical cover for the child, to her surprise. Simon’s return proves the catalyst for all three to unite and Melvin agrees to drive him to Baltimore. Carol joins them and en route they begin to break the ice, with Melvin and Carol slowly gaining intimacy until his temper returns, and she leaves…

Half Howard Hughes, part Barbara Cartland, Melvin is one of cinema’s better recent ogres, armed with barbed-wire wit (“Sell crazy someplace else. We’re all stocked up here,”) and a yearning for female company. As the unfortunate target of his intention, Carol fights fire with napalm (“When you first entered the restaurant, I thought you were handsome… and then you spoke.”) It’s a delicious marriage that won Oscars for Nicholson and Hunt and took $300m globally.

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