As Good As It Gets

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During a session with an artist's model, the painter Simon Bishop -- one of the main characters in As Good As It Gets --says that if you look at someone long enough, you discover their humanity and they become increasingly real and more alive. This is exactly what occurs with each of the three main characters during the course of this edgy and delightful romantic comedy, co-written and directed by James L. Brooks.

One-third of this all-too-human trio of New Yorkers is Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt of Twister and the TV series "Mad About You"), a single waitress supporting a young son who has chronic medical problems. Then there's Simon (Greg Kinnear), who happens to be gay and to live in the apartment across from one Melvin Udall.

In a performance as bracing as a sharp slap to the face, Jack Nicholson plays romance writer Udall, a reclusive, self-centered, vitriolic, obsessive-compulsive misanthrope. Seemingly unable to control his vicious tongue, Melvin alienates everyone he encounters, effectively short-circuiting any form of human connection. Offensive as his barbs are, they're also terrifically funny, perhaps because they're so liberally apportioned -- Jews, women, Hispanics, African Americans and gays are all fair game.

Things really begin to cook when these three interact, the fullness of their personalities (with all their raw edges, strengths and eccentricities) coming into focus as they play off each other.

As Carol, Hunt conveys great warmth and honesty. Empathic and nurturing, she is everything that Melvin is not. With her good-natured equanimity and forthrightness, she's the only waitress at the Cafe 24 Heures who can handle waiting on him.

Kinnear's adorable Simon is both vulnerable and resilient, while Nicholson is in top form as an embittered and unpleasant man who discovers inner reserves of generosity that no one ever suspected.

Also deserving of mention are Cuba Gooding Jr. as an art dealer and Simon's good friend, and Shirley Knight as Carol's supportive and understanding mother.

With a cast like this and an intelligent and witty script by Brooks and Mark Andrus, you can't go wrong.

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