It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There's something about Jack Nicholson that makes you want to grin. Maybe it's the anticipation that you'll see him get away with something. He's the guy who knows the angles. His screen persona was established for all time the moment he told the waitress to hold the chicken salad between her knees in "Five Easy Pieces."
"As Good as It Gets" takes that attitude as far as it will go in the direction it was already headed: He plays an obsessive-compulsive curmudgeon whose communication with the world is mostly limited to insults--not funny ones, but comments intended to wound. It is some kind of twisted tribute to Nicholson that he's able to use this dialogue in what is, after all, a comedy. He hurls racist, sexist, homophobic and physical insults at everyone he meets, and because it's Nicholson, we let him; we know there has to be a payback somehow. If you see the movie, ask yourself how Nicholson's tirades would sound coming from any other actor. They'd bring the film to an appalled halt.
Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a man who crouches in the apartment where he has ground out 62 romance novels for women. Asked how he writes the female characters so convincingly, he replies, "I think of a man. And I take away reason and accountability." He hates everyone in the building, and the movie opens with him hurling his neighbor's little dog down the garbage chute. Then he marches out to take his habitual meal in a nearby restaurant, where he lays out his own plastic cutlery.
"Sometimes you must try other people's clean silverware, as part of the fun of eating out," advises Carol the waitress (Helen Hunt). She waits on him, but she doesn't like him, and when he makes a disparaging remark about her asthmatic son, she makes him take it back, or she will never, ever serve him again. Since she's the only waitress who will serve him, and since this is the only restaurant he will eat in, he backs down. (Later, when he's finally thrown out of the restaurant, there's applause from the regulars.)