Follow TV Tropes


Film / As Good as It Gets

Go To
"You make me want to be a better man."

"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 hostility toward 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 (Jesse James) 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 to 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. A James L. Brooks production, with the soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer. Cuba Gooding Jr. plays Simon's manager, Frank. A young Maya Rudolph can be seen briefly as a cop.

The film provides examples of the following:

  • Alliterative Name: Carol Connolly.
  • 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!
    • And:
    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.
    • Also, don't interrupt Melvin while he's writing.
  • The Big Damn Kiss:
    • Carol to Melvin at the restaurant.
    • At the end, as they're walking around at 4 am, Melvin kisses Carol somewhat awkwardly. They break, he says "I know I can do better than that," and he lays The Big Damn Kiss on her.
    Carol: Better. Definitely better.
  • 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!"
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Melvin is a successful and prolific author which is why he can insult his publisher and get away with it. And since he works from home he doesn't have to interact with any other colleagues.
  • The Cameo: Lawrence Kasdan plays Melvin's doctor, and Todd Solondz is one of the passengers on the bus when Carol goes to see Melvin. Harold Ramis plays Spencer's new doctor, hired by Melvin.
  • Camp Gay: Melvin certainly seems to think Simon is one. Aside from a positively Squicky attachment to his dog, he's slightly effeminate but otherwise fairly Straight Gay.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Everyone!
    • Simon's back story involved his childhood pastime of painting his mother in the nude. His dad didn't approve.
    • 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. Makes you think, doesn't it?
    • 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.
  • Disappeared Dad: The father of Spencer, Carol's son, is never mentioned or seen. It may be that, given Spencer's health problems, he ran out on them.
  • 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.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Simon gets angry enough at Melvin's cruel remarks to take a swing at him. It misses, but it does get Melvin to approach the situation a little more tenderly.
  • 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.
  • Dysfunction Junction
  • 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.
    • Another one nestled inside: Carol tries sorting her messy belongings and shoving them into a suitcase, while complaining that it's impossible to pack for the trip. Cut to Melvin, his packing neatly sorted, bagged, and arranged while he marks off a checklist of what he's taking.
  • Good is Not Nice: Melvin and how!!
  • Hates Being Touched: Melvin
  • Held Gaze: Melvin and Carol hold each other's gazes at least twice and for a moment all conversation dies away (during the second held gaze.)
  • Informed Deformity: Going by Frank's extreme reaction of horror, it seems like Simon's face had been put in a blender instead of looking like he got beaten up with fairly regular stitches, swelling and bruises.
    • To be sure, Jackie (Simon's assistant) starts crying as soon as she sees Simon's face, so it's not just Frank.
  • Irony: Melvin, a bigoted curmudgeon who's so antisocial he can barely engage in human talk and is horrible at relationships, is a prolific and successful romance novelist.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Melvin, and "jerk" may be too light a term. Once they get back from Maryland, we notice the changes for the better. The entire movie is basically him becoming much nicer, with Carol ultimately managing to reform Melvin through kindness.
  • The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: After Simon tells Carol about his Dark and Troubled Past, while Melvin sulks in the back seat:
    Carol: We all have these terrible stories to get over, and you-
    Melvin: That's not true. Some of us have great stories, pretty stories, that take place at lakes, with boats and friends and noodle salad, just no one in this car.
  • Licked by the Dog: It's Verdell that first gets to soften Melvin.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Carol serves as this for Melvin and, eventually, Simon.
  • May–December Romance: Despite her insistence that she'll never sleep with him, Carol does end up falling for the much older and more cynical Melvin. note 
  • 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.
    • At least twice during the conversation between Melvin and Carol in the restaurant in Baltimore. Carol goes from neutral to angry to completely besotted to furious.
  • Ms. Fanservice: There really is no reason for Carol to get a Sexy Soaked Shirt scene or prepare to bathe in front of Simon other than it appeals to the audience.
  • 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.
  • Nipple and Dimed: One of the rare examples of this happening in a non-R rated film; just as Carol knocks on Melvin's door she realizes in rapid order that A, her shirt is soaking wet; B, she isn't wearing a bra; and C, she's very cold (if you take our meaning). The only option she can come up with is to grab her shirt and hold it away from her breasts for the duration of their talk. Interestingly enough, while leaving Melvin's later in the scene, Carol is clearly wearing a bra (the shots of her back plainly show a bra outline).
  • No Antagonist: Though there are brief instances of villainous characters in Simon's story (the robbers and his unseen cold-hearted father), the story ultimately focuses on Melvin overcoming his struggles and getting with Carol.
  • No Medication for Me: A rare and awesome subversion in Melvin's speech complimenting Carol.
    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.
    Melvin: You make me want to be a better man.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Melvin's setting himself out at his table and doing his little ramble about how everyone's going to die and he gets to how Carol's son is likely to soon, almost as soon as it's out of his mouth he stops and his eyes widen and his lips go slack, realizing he's gone too far.
  • On Second Thought: In Carol's first scene, when Melvin is badgering her to get his table free, she says he can sit at another table, at which point all of her co-workers immediately gasp in fear. She then says, "Or, you could wait."
  • Pet Homosexual: Simon is a Deconstruction of this character type. Essentially what happens when the Pet Homosexual has a Heroic BSoD and starts biting back.
  • Precision F-Strike: Three times (bucking the usual PG-13 rule), but especially this:
    Carol: Fucking HMO bastard pieces of shit!
    Carol's Mom: Carol!
    Carol: Sorry.
    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.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: 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.
  • Silver Fox: Jack Nicholson aka Melvin, still charismatic in his old age.
    Carol: When you first came into the restaurant, I thought you were handsome. And then you spoke.
  • Struggling Single Mother: Carol.
  • Title Drop: Melvin says "What if this is as good as it gets?" in a psychiatrist's waiting room.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Frank lampshades this to Melvin, laughing about all the nice things he's doing despite the gruff demeanor.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Melvin on his dinner date with Carol.
  • Villainous Valor: Well, more "Jerkass" than "villainous", but Melvin, despite his repulsive demeanor, is still a successful novelist who can work from home, implying he has a degree of grit and determination.
  • You Need to Get Laid: Carol says this about herself during the conversation with her mother when she breaks down crying, and is talking about seeing a couple, while on the bus, being "adorable" with one another:
    Which is probably why I hug Spence more than he needs me to. Poor kid doesn't have enough problems in his life, he has to make up for his mom not getting any.