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As Good as It Gets(1997)
New York City. Melvin Udall, a cranky, bigoted, obsessive-compulsive writer, finds his life turned upside down when neighboring gay artist Simon is hospitalized and his dog is entrusted to Melvin. In addition, Carol, the only waitress who will tolerate him, must leave work to care for her sick son, making it impossible for Melvin to eat breakfast.
For more about As Good as It Gets and the As Good as It Gets Blu-ray release, see As Good as It Gets Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on June 10, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Skeet Ulrich, Shirley Knight
Director: James L. Brooks
» See full cast & crew
As Good as It Gets Blu-ray Review
Well, maybe not quite that good, but darn good nonetheless.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, June 10, 2012
There's probably no finer example of the changes wrought by the sixties on Hollywood than Jack Nicholson. Could Nicholson have flourished in the studio system of the thirties or forties, or indeed even in the fifties with the slow and steady encroachment of television? Though Nicholson was at least passably dashing in his younger years, he wasn't flat out matinee idol handsome, and he had a sort of snarky persona that was distinctly at odds with the glamorous ethos of the Golden Age of La-La Land. Seeing Nicholson's early performances now in such films as The Little Shop of Horrors (the original), The Raven and The Terror, it's at least a little surprising that Nicholson went on to become one of the most iconic performers of his generation. Part of that ascent must certainly be due to the sea change that brought the independent film to the forefront in the late sixties, and Nicholson's contributions to such legendary outings as Easy Rider most assuredly helped put him (mostly) in the driver's seat for a career that really exploded in the seventies. It's really rather amazing at just how quickly Nicholson did ascend in that decade, with the one two punch of Carnal Knowledge and Five Easy Pieces finally bringing him the mainstream recognition which had largely eluded him for the early part of his career. By the time Nicholson starred in As Good As It Gets in 1997, he was largely unassailable as one of the two or three leading male performers of his generation, and even without really "stretching" in his role of Melvin Udall, he brought home his third Oscar, perhaps due at least as much to the force of his now beloved curmudgeonly persona as for any acting brilliance he brought to the project (but make no mistake about it, he does bring acting brilliance to the part). But the fact is probably no other actor could have played as offensive a character as Udall, a writer suffering from OCD who hurls insults like Don Rickles crossed with the Energizer Bunny. In less beloved hands, Udall would have come off as a hopeless, unseemly boor. Nicholson somehow manages to make the character palatable, if only barely at times. While As Good As It Gets is perhaps not quite as good as its rapturous 1997 reviews claimed, it's a showcase for the very idiosyncratic and even peculiar charm that Jack Nicholson brings to his performances.
James L. Brooks certainly did yeoman duty in the cliché ridden halls of television sitcoms, including working on such less than stellar outings as My Mother, The Car before really hitting his stride with such legends as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi (not to mention The Simpsons). All of those years toiling in the grind of weekly television might have worn down a lesser talent, but the best thing about As Good As It Gets is how radiantly fresh it is so much of the time. Sure, we've seen films about misfits before, even misfits who slowly evolve from hate at first sight to at least grudging admiration, and quite often more than that. But in the expert hands of Brooks, who co- wrote and directed the film, the three main characters here are all remarkably vivid, especially when given life by the likes of Nicholson, Helen Hunt and Greg Kinnear.
We meet Nicholson's Melvin Udall first, as he attempts to dispose (literally) of a neighbor's dog. That neighbor turns out to be gay artist Simon (Kinnear), a talented if naïve young man who, upon finding out what Melvin has done to his beloved dog Verdell, still isn't quite able to adequately confront the looming and slightly menacing Melvin. Melvin's OCD leads him to the same restaurant every day where he insists on being waited on by Carol (Hunt), apparently the only waitress who can tolerate Melvin's peculiar behavior and frequently extremely insulting mouth. Out of this rather peculiar fabric of three wounded characters, Brooks and co-scenarist Mark Andrus weave a fascinating tapestry of interplay that unfolds slowly (too slowly some might argue, considering the film's almost two and a half hour length), but which relishes in small character beats instead of grandstanding dramatic (or even comedic) plot developments.
Simon gets the crap beat out of him by friends of a thuggish kid (Skeet Ulrich) he's been drawing and Carol is dealing with her dangerously asthmatic son. Into this fray wanders the not very lovable Melvin, who ends up acquitting himself quite well with regard to both of these people, though not without recurrent stumbles. As Good As It Gets derives its emotional impetus from the simple arc of Melvin opening himself up to the vagaries of life (at least insofar as his highly regimented OCD will let him). At the same time we see some kind of odd evolutions in both Carol and Simon. Simon, once hopeful and optimistic, almost becomes a counterbalance to Melvin, in that as Melvin becomes relatively more jovial, Simon sinks into a deep depression. Carol is innately suspicious of any good fortune visiting her working class life, and that, along with Melvin's tendency toward malapropisms, leads to some rough going between the two.
Perhaps surprisingly for a James L. Brooks film, this is not a movie made up of huge laughs. There are laughs galore, some of them quite hearty, but they almost uniformly spring out of the dichotomy of heartache segueing more or less effortlessly into resignation. A perfect example is a great scene with Carol and her mother, where the mother, blown away that Melvin has arranged for a private doctor to look after Carol's son, is urging her daughter to let her hair down a little and enjoy a night on the town. Carol is simply morose, crying hysterically and babbling on about all sorts of fears, real and imagined. "What do you want, Mother?" she asks, almost viciously. "I want to go out," is the mother's simple answer. Pause. "Okay," answers Carol calmly, suddenly shifting emotional tenor, and it's a great little moment, one that easily brings a chuckle. As Good As It Gets is filled with little moments like that.
There are some niggling problems along the way, including a tendency to introduce supporting characters without giving them much flesh and blood and relying on shtick to get them through. We therefore get little bits by Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Simon's agent or Yeardley Smith as an art dealer that do provide some laughs but don't really add up to much in the long run. Speaking of the long run, the film is too long by at least a half hour, though it's so enjoyable so much of the time that the meandering pace isn't as problematic as it might have been. The whole subplot of getting Simon to his parents' home in Baltimore also turns out to be a bit of a dead end, though it at least gets the three main characters together on a road trip where several dramatic developments ensue.
Even with its (admittedly relatively minor) flaws, As Good As It Gets benefits from daring to be different. This is a film that flouts cookie cutter three act plot structures and instead relies on a knowing investigation of the interior lives of three emotionally fragile characters. Brooks' pacing is expert (notwithstanding the film's somewhat problematic length) and the performances are simply marvelous. Nicholson and Hunt won well deserved Oscars (and Kinnear was nominated), and the interaction between the three performers is natural and downright lovable. That's about as good as it gets when you're dealing with someone as curmudgeonly as Melvin Udall.
As Good as It Gets Blu-ray, Video Quality
As Good As It Gets is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.85:1. This is yet another really nice looking high definition presentation culled from the Columbia assets catalog, with beautifully saturated colors and excellent sharpness and clarity. Fine object detail is often exceptional and many of the exterior location shots provide great depth of field. The film feels just a little dark at times, with contrast perhaps not pushed quite as far as some would hope, which leads to some minimal loss of shadow detail in some interior and night scenes. That said, there doesn't appear to have been any excessive digital tweaking (if indeed much of any at all), giving this presentation a very natural filmic quality. The elements are in excellent condition all the way through the film. This continues Twilight Time's generally superior track record in releasing high quality high definition transfers.
As Good as It Gets Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As Good As It Gets' lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix has some surprising immersion for such a dialogue based character study. Part of this is due to the great outdoor footage which bustles with the sounds of Manhattan, but even little things like Verdell scampering through Melvin's cavernous apartment are handled with really nice directionality that fills up the sound field, albeit subtly at times. Dialogue is clean and crisp and the film's copious use of source cues is also rendered very well on this lossless track. Fidelity is top notch and dynamic range is decently wide, if never really overwhelming.
As Good as It Gets Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
There's some real disappointment to be felt with regard to the supplements on this new Blu-ray in that the excellent commentary from the DVD (which featured the principal players plus Brooks plus others) hasn't been ported over to this Blu- ray release. Perhaps it wasn't offered as part of the licensing deal or perhaps Columbia – Sony was asking for too much for it to be included, but it's a real shame that it's missing here. Otherwise, the disc includes:
As Good as It Gets Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As Good As It Gets isn't a perfect film, but you know what it is? It's a brave film, one that dares not to toe the line of cookie cutter movie making, and that makes it aces in my book. There's probably never been a character quite like Melvin Udall in the annals of film, and Nicholson brings him fully alive in a wonderful performance. Hunt and Kinnear are also exceptional and the interplay between the three characters is fantastic. The film has its share of laughs, but this is really an analysis of three wounded souls learning to form a community. It's a lesson that seems even more relevant today than it did in 1997. This Blu-ray offers superior video and audio and though the missing commentary is a real disappointment, this release comes Highly recommended.
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