"A Comedy From the Heart That Goes For the Throat"
As Good As It Gets is a 1997 Rom Com from the mind of James L. Brooks, and starring Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, and Greg Kinnear. Featuring a relatively small cast, the crux of the story revolves around a reclusive novelist named Melvin Udall: his harassment of his neighbour, Simon (Kinnear) and his fixation dependence on Carol Connolly (Hunt), a down on her luck single mom with a perennially-ill son. The main characters are as follows:—Melvin Udall (Nicholson): a reclusive, Obsessive-Compulsive bigot and, in classic Nicholson style, the name at the top of the marquee; Udall also happens to be his publisher's highest-selling novelist (62 books, on par with Stephen King, for a sense of scale), and chronically dependent on waitress Carol Connolly, who waits on him—patiently—in the Manhattan restaurant at which he dines daily.—Carol Connolly (Hunt): a beleaguered single mom, working a comfortable (if somewhat unfulfilling) waitress job at a Manhattan diner. Melvin's chosen waitress—for little other reason than his OCD-fuelled dependence on her, and, at least in his mind, her willingness to put up with him. Lives with her mother and chronically-ill son, Spencer, in Brooklyn.—Simon Bishop (Kinnear): Melvin's neighbor. A painter whose two passions in life are his beloved Brussels-Griffon, Verdell, and painting. His dreams get dashed violently when a street ruffian and his friends rob Simon and beat him within an inch of his life. Hereafter, while Simon's away getting treated, Verdell the dog falls under the care of Melvin—who has trouble adjusting. Then gets over it. Then has trouble dealing with the absence in his life once Verdell goes back to Simon.From here, Rule of Drama ensues. Being a James L. Brooks production, natch, it intersperses all the emotional weight with heaping doses of awesome & heartwarming. Also, the soundtrack, by no less than Hans Zimmer, is also the kitty's pajamas.
The film provides examples of the following:
Anti-Hero: Melvin is a homophobic, racist and misanthropic man who puts off the neighbors in his apartment building and nearly everyone else with whom he comes into contact. However, he becomes more gentle towards the end.
Melvin: I've got JEWS at my table!
Simon: Which colour was that ?
Melvin: [Talking about the skin of a black man] Like THICK MOLAAAASSES with a broad nose. Perfect for smelling trouble and prison food.
Berserk Button: Carol is as patient as one can humanly be when dealing with Melvin, but when he makes a snarky comment that everyone eventually will die, including her sick son, she chews him out in public, with a Precision F-Strike (as an noun towards Melvin). It is such a shock that even Melvin is rendered speechless, and quietly apologizes.
Big "Shut Up!": Melvin to the schoolkids running behind Carol and parroting her cries of "Melvin, wait!"
Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Simon's manager Frank likes to play as if he's kind, caring, and attentive, but he consistently avoids actually having to do anything to be helpful himself, going so far as to threaten Melvin into forcing him to be the good guy.
There's also Frank's reaction to the elderly lady declining to take care of Verdell: "Old bitch!"
Camp Gay: Melvin certainly seems to think Simon is one. Aside from a positively Squicky attachment to his dog, he's fairly straight up.
Although he is rather close with Frank, and even admits to Melvin he had no interest in Carol beyond their night at the hotel.
We never find out much about Melvin before the events of the film, but he admits in one scene that his father used to beat him on the hands with a yardstick whenever Melvin made a mistake playing the piano. Also, his father didn't leave his room for eleven years.
Carol's past is mostly an Informed Ability, revolving around her current Single Mom-ness and her attachment to her son. The earliest date she mentions is Spencer being six months old, and even then, it's an afterthought to the big problem of his illness.
Frank briefly references having one, but he may just be pretending to be a Scary Black Man to keep Melvin from picking on Simon so much.
Deadpan Snarker: Pretty much every character in the film but especially Melvin.
Disney Dog Fight: A twist on this is done between Verdell (the dog) and Simon and Melvin, as Melvin was trying not to win to cheer Simon up.
Double Take: A passerby gives one at Carol's breasts; a rain-soaked Carol finds this odd, but it's because she doesn't realize her breasts are showing through her wet T-shirt.
Facepalm: Carol does this when Melvin yells an order to a waiter across the room at dinner.
Gayngst: Lampshaded when straight Melvin asks Simon after all the horrible things that have happened to him if he thinks his life would have been easier if he were straight, which causes Simon to ask back: "Do you consider your life easy?"
Gilligan Cut: Carol shoots down Melvin's invite to come with him and Simon to Maryland; it then cuts to her packing for the trip.
Meaningful Background Event: When Melvin and Simon return from Maryland, an attentive viewer will notice that Melvin does not go through his lock routine when he closes the door. Melvin doesn't realize this until a couple of scenes later and it counts as his Eureka Moment, realizing he's changed for good.
Mood Whiplash: Played for laughs in the first scene; Melvin's elderly neighbor is all smiles about tulip season but immediately spots Melvin, mutters "Son of a bitch", and slams the door.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Melvin often undoes his good deeds immediately because he can't keep his snarky comments in check (and doesn't know how to be tactful in social situations). While taking Carol out to dinner, he complains offhandedly that he had to buy a dinner jacket while they let her wear a "housedress", which pisses her off. Then when he gives her the "best compliment of her life" moments later (see No Medication for Me) and getting a Big Damn Kiss, he again negates it by suggesting that Carol should have sex with Simon.
Melvin: "I've got this, what—ailment? My doctor, a shrink that I used to go to all the time, he says that in fifty or sixty percent of the cases, a pill really helps. I hate pills, very dangerous thing, pills. Hate. I'm using the word "hate" here, about pills. Hate. My compliment is, that night when you came over and told me that you would never... well, you were there, you know what you said. Well, my compliment to you is, the next morning, I started taking the pills."
Carol: "I don't quite get how that's a compliment for me."
Doctor: It's okay. Actually, I think that's their technical name.
Sex for Services: Carol thinks Melvin is only supplying a house-call doctor for her son because of this and even point-blank tells him it won't work ("I will never have sex with you, NEVER!"), but it's just because Melvin needs her back at his restaurant. And that underneath it all, there may be a heart of gold that actually does care for her.
Took a Level in Kindness: Frank lampshades this to Melvin, laughing about all the nice things he's doing despite the gruff demeanor.
Wet Sari Scene: Carol gets one after running in the rain to get to Melvin's apartment.
Shown Their Work: Yes, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, though it manifests differently in each case, is presented fairly spot-on here.
Title Drop: Melvin says "What if this is as good as it gets?" in a psychiatrist's waiting room.