Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt

As Good As It Gets: An Inspiration Always

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Consider this.

Young woman at the reception: You’ve no idea what your work means to me?

Jack Nicholson: What does it mean to you?

Woman: That somebody out there knows what it likes to be in here. (She places her hands on her head and chest).

Jack Nicholson: Oh god, this is really a nightmare…

Woman: Oh come on… A couple of questions how hard is that…? How do you write women so well?

Jack Nicholson: I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.

This scene is outright sexist. But to me, it’s also funny as hell.  If you look at it from a perspective of the character Melvin Udall played by Nicholson — a misanthrope and best-selling writer suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the exchange here is apt, honest and as fresh as it can get.

Oscars. There are so many scenes that I love from this film. And if I were to have my way, I would end up writing a series of blogs — just on this one film. I can I know. But I won’t. Instead, let me put a few things that never fail to impress every time I watch this film for inspiration or otherwise.  Let me also tell you that I ain’t the only one who liked this film. It did win Oscar for its leading lady — Helen Hunt (best actress in a leading role) and Jack Nicolson (best actor in a leading role), was a box office success and loved by critics.

Characters.  Let’s take a look at the characters in this film.

One. Melvin Udall. He gets on the nerves of people he talks to. He’s highly unlikeable. He walks crazy, talks crazy and even eats crazy. He carries his plastic spoons and forks to the same restaurant he eats — everyday — sitting at the same table.

Two. Simon Bishop. A gay painter with mother issues, down on his luck and in-love with his dog.

Three. Carol Connelly. A feisty single mother with an ailing son who works as a waitress and waits on Melvin at the restaurant, where he goes to have his breakfast every day.

Four. Frank Sachs. Simon’s Afro-American agent with an anger problem and a strong dislike for the racist Melvin Udall.

And there are these minor characters like Rachel’s nurturing mother who takes care of her grandson, the kind doctor who visits Rachel’s son after Melvin arranges for it and the woman who breaks the news of Simon’s bankruptcy by reading from her cards. All these characters strike a chord and leave a mark. Hallmarks of characters that are well written. And well played.

To have a lead character who’s obnoxious as hell and yet funny and vulnerable is risqué. The fact that it was played by an actor of Nicholson’s calibre helped. The dialogues he was given to mouth and the character arc that he was supposed to follow, from being a  sick asshole to a man who finally falls in love and starts to change, makes him hard to forget.

Love. This film is a romantic comedy. It has scenes which makes one laugh. It has scenes which makes one smile. And at one point in the film, like in classic romances, the lead characters move apart. Until they come together and the film ends happily.

Take a look at this one scene and you’ll get my drift.

Melvin Udall: I’ve got a really great compliment for you, and it’s true.

Carol Connelly: I’m so afraid you’re about to say something awful.

Melvin Udall: Don’t be pessimistic, it’s not your style. I’ve got this, what – ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says… a pill really helps. I *hate* pills, very dangerous thing, pills. I’m using the word “hate” here, about pills. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never… all right, well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills.

Carol Connelly: I don’t quite get how that’s a compliment for me.

Melvin Udall: You make me want to be a better man.

Elements of a rom-com perfectly executed. However, the film becomes extraordinary through its moments.  An entire gamut of human emotions from pain, anger, fear, love, disappointment to failure and  heartbreak is weaved into the screenplay, in a way that’s fresh, honest and endearing.

And finally, and most importantly, it is a slice of life film. I mean we are all suckers for films and books which tell us about real people and real issues. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is for real. So is homophobia, racism, sexism, mental illness, lack of money and resources, family problems. Not to rule out the challenges of love and friendship…. People face these challenges, day in and out. And live among us. We are these people.  

Naturally, we find it easier to latch on to works of fiction and cinema that depict precisely that. And if it’s done with a dose of humour and honesty, it doesn’t get better than that…does it?

In As Good As It Gets, it does. The not-so-young protagonists. The love can change you undertone. The single sassy mother working hard to get food on the table and medicines for her son. The writer who writes romance but has no respect for the genre.  As Good As It Gets is all of these quirky bits and more. It’s a well-deserved victory of storytelling through the medium of cinema. 

No wonder, every time I watch it, I go back to my laptop inspired to bring in a new perspective to the stories I write. 

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