This is one of my favourite movies from the 90s. 1997 was a great year for movies, it was also the year that Good Will Hunting was released. The fact either of these films lost the best picture Oscar to a film like Titanic is a travesty. Both of these movies are so much more superior, it’s not even worth debating.
This was the first film I got to really appreciate Jack Nicholson. Before this, I really only knew him as The Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman film. He was really good in that, but let’s be honest, he’s not winning any Oscars in a Batman movie. He is great as Melvin Udall, an always cranky author who suffers from OCD. When his gay neighbour (Greg Kinnear) is attacked, he is forced to babysit his dog while his neighbour recuperates. This throws Melvin’s structured life into disarray. Along the way, he interacts with a waitress at his local restaurant (Helen Hunt).
Hunt is fantastic as Carol the waitress. Before this, she was known as Jamie Buchman from Mad About You. This was such an out of left field role for someone only known by her performance in a popular sitcom. She was rewarded with a Best Actress Oscar for this performance, which she deserves. She has a real charm about her as a New York waitress struggling with her son’s rare illness and then having to also deal with Jack Nicholson intruding into her life away from work when she fails to turn up one morning.
This is a really sweet film, despite the fact that the lead is such an unlikable character. At least at the beginning of the film anyway. Nicholson redeems himself somewhat by the end, but still spends the majority of the film being a massive jerk to everyone. The fact you don’t completely hate Melvin is a testament to Nicholson’s performance. You don’t really like him, but still want him to succeed in some way and are genuinely concerned when his life is turned upside down after being forced to babysit Greg Kinnear’s dog. Which doesn’t sound like a huge interference, unless of course you have OCD and live one of the most structured lives a New Yorker could live.
The only problem I had with this film is when Nicholson and Hunt start becoming romantically involved. He’s at least 20 years older than her. It’s never really explained why an attractive woman like Helen Hunt would be interested in a man who should be considering retirement. This is not a major problem, as the chemistry between the two actors is fantastic, it’s just something I would’ve liked to at least be a topic of conversation throughout the film at some stage.
Try as I might, I just can’t get into this movie. Despite some great performances and critical acclaim, it just doesn’t appeal to me.
Let’s just say that Helen Hunt’s character, Carol Connelly, is much more patient than I am. After about 10 minutes of watching Melvin Udall (played by Jack Nicholson) I’m ready to pull my hair out. He is annoying, rude, self-centered, homophobic… basically the embodiment of every negative quality a person can possess. Yes, some of this can be attributed to his OCD, but not much. At times it even seems like Melvin uses his mental illness as an excuse to act like a jerk. I never really warm to Melvin, so when he promises to turn his life around in the end it’s too little too late.
Even Hunt’s character annoys me, when I think about it. No matter how much shit Melvin throws at Carol, she keeps letting him back into her life. She literally takes the title to heart and settles for a crazy, unapologetic misanthrope because “this is as good as it gets!” [cartoon shrug followed by laughter]
I do however love the relationship between Greg Kinnear and Helen Hunt’s characters. There is genuine chemistry between the two of them. I would have loved to see the friendship between these two explored more. Actually, I would have preferred to see more of Nicholson and Kinnear’s relationship as well. I feel like this could have been really excellent if the romance angle was removed.