James L. Brooks’ As Good as it Gets is one of my go-to films. I can go to it anytime, for any reason. If I’m down, it brings me up. If I’m up, it makes me feel even better. I watch it at least once a year, marveling at its perfect acting, tight script, and fluid narrative. It’s just a damn entertaining film; certainly one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Here are only a few reasons why.
I love that this woman’s face says everything we need to know about Melvin Udall, before actually meeting him.
Greg Kinnear’s look of pride after he tells Melvin off.
Simon’s wardrobe. Perfection.
I LOVE Cuba Gooding Jr.’s sudden transition from enraged to merry art dealer. “I HATE doing this. I’m an ART. DEALER!” He really is the unsung hero of the film.
Melvin’s look of satisfaction after people leave “his” table in the restaurant.
This is my favorite moment of the film: watch Melvin’s face after he realizes that he’s insulted Carol’s son. Jack Nicholson’s subtle transformation is a master class of acting. It just kills me.
The look of intrigue that comes across Carol’s face when Melvin asks what’s wrong with her son. She’s so pleasantly surprised that he’s actually interested.
The way Simon says, “Why are you doing this?” He knows what’s coming, and it’s haunting.
Look everyone, Maya Rudolph!
Look everyone, Yeardley Smith! (She’s the voice of Lisa Simpson).
Frank’s stance of confidence as Simon looks at himself in the mirror following his attack.
The way Melvin is overcome with sadness when he realizes he’s going to have to return Verdell. Look at the perspiration on his neck, he’s fucking mortified.
The makeup on Greg Kinnear’s face is extremely accurate. Very few movies include the odd, gangrene color that accompanies severe bruising a few weeks after a brutal attack.
Look everyone, Lawrence Kasdan! (Writer of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Writer/director of Body Heat and The Big Chill.)
The original title of the film was “Old Friends,” which no one, including writer/director James L. Brooks, ever really liked. While scoring the film, Hans Zimmer suggested “As Good as It Gets” as a new title, based on a line Melvin says in his therapist’s waiting room.
Look everyone, Shane Black! (Writer of Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero. Writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3.)
“I’m not a… prick. You are, I’m not judging.”
Look everyone, Wood Harris! (aka Avon Barksdale.)
The jump cut of Carol taking Spencer’s temperature by hand, to her taking it with an ear thermometer. You can just tell they do this all the time.
Look everyone, Harold Ramis! May he rest in peace.
The composition of this shot. Centered alignment, vertical imagery, dual focus points – it’s so simple it’s brilliant.
I love that Melvin is simply back in the restaurant. Even though he was kicked out earlier (which was met with enthusiastic applause from everyone in the restaurant), here he is, back at his table, waiting for his meal. No explanation, no reasoning… he’s just back.
“Do you drive?”
“LIKE THE WIND! BUT I’M NOT DOIN’ IT!”
There’s something about the line, “Like the wind,” that I’ve always found reassuring. It let’s us know that there’s more to Melvin yet.
There’s an old movie maxim that a lot of my favorite filmmakers (namely Steven Soderbergh) follow: Ask a question with dialogue, answer it with an editing cut. That’s exactly what the jump cut from Carol saying “There’s no way to pack for this trip,” to Melvin perfectly packing for the trip accomplishes.
Look everyone, Todd Solondz!
Frank waving his finger at Melvin, as a way of saying, “You wiseass son of a bitch, you.”
The earnestness in which Melvin says, “Thank you for being on time.”
Simon unable to regain his train of thought after Melvin interrupts his story in the car. I’ve always wondered if that was written, or if Kinnear literally lost it for a moment. Either way, it works perfectly.
Tom McGowan. Pay attention to Tom McGowan. He plays the Maitre D’ at the fancy Baltimore restaurant. He only has a few lines, and is on screen for roughly 60 seconds, yet he expertly convinces us that he is indeed a Maitre D’. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but I’ve always been drawn to his work. This is character acting.
The five seconds Nicholson takes to deliver that perfect line. It’s like he knows it’s gonna kill.
“I’m comin’ in. It’s late.” I love the emphasis put on “late.”
The moment Melvin tells Simon that he’s homeless is a very interesting one. Melvin knows that all of Simon’s stuff has been moved into Melvin’s apartment. If Melvin shares this news, then he’s a hero, and could likely win back the affection of Carol. Yet he keeps with his dickish persona, implying that Simon has been put up somewhere random, thereby capitalizing on Simon’s fear for another six hours. Why? Because he can.
This pat on the shoulder. It says everything about the new Melvin that we need to know.
“Are you gonna talk to me or not!?” In one line, the enemies become buddies.
This reaction. Perfect.
“I’m gonna grab ya. I didn’t mean for that to be a question. I’m gonna grab ya.”
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