As Good As It Gets

on December 23, 1997 by Kim Williamson
Originally called "Old Friends" and rated R for language, this dramatic comedy from James L. Brooks delivers the goods audiences since his "Terms of Endearment" and "Broadcast News" have come to expect: laughs and tears, fine writing, rich acting, social commentary (a jab at HMOs brought a roar of angry appreciation from the film's ShowEast audience) and a smile on the face as one exits the theatre. As such, "As Good As It Gets" is virtually the perfect Christmas movie: smart enough to be serious, funny enough to be entertaining, and name-heavy enough to make for a good marquee.
As the marquee draw, Nicholson as a missing-some-marbles romance novelist who rarely allows human contact is nigh-on perfect in a role nigh-on perfect for him: weird enough to allow him to be Jack, but human enough for audiences to take him into their hearts. As the struggling single mother whose little boy has been suffering at the hands of uncaring doctors (this is where the HMOs come in), Helen Hunt counterbalances Nicholson by keeping things simple and it works. (Although the eventual romance between the Hunt and Nicholson characters just never seems believable; her necessarily straight-ahead approach to life would never countenance falling in love with a nut.) Greg Kinnear, he of the Olympian looks but goofy nature, draws from some third source in his affecting creation of a lonely gay artist who a sad fate draws into the writer's and waitress' lives.
Given the choice between being too humorous or too tragic, Brooks obviously would always take the former; as in the rest of his works, "As Good As It Gets," however it longs to grab a helmet and dig into the pith of existence, never goes too deep. (About as dark as it gets is Nicholson's line when he's made a tiny breakthrough, "What if this is as good as it gets?") But, for mainstream audiences who want to believe that ultimately there's a charm to life, "As Good As It Gets" could hardly play much better. Starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear. Directed by James L. Brooks. Written by James L. Brooks and Mark Andrus. Produced by James L. Brooks, Kristi Zea and Bridget Johnson. A TriStar release. Drama/comedy. Rated PG-13 for strong language, thematic elements, nudity and a beating. Running time: 132 min.
Tags: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, James L. Brooks, Mark Andrus, Kristi Zea, Bridget Johnson, TriStar, Drama/comedy, gay, humor, romance

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