Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Bonding Experience

Melvin (Jack Nicholson): Sell crazy someplace else. We're all stocked up here.

I don't know why I have always enjoyed watching "As Good As It Gets," which made its big–screen debut 15 years ago today.

Maybe because it is so in–your–face honest. I sort of think it was that quality that made "As Good As It Gets" so appealing — even if, at times, it became brutally honest.

The story dealt with an unlikely threesome — an obsessive–compulsive, a waitress and a gay artist — who shared a bonding experience.

Melvin: Carol the waitress, Simon the fag.

It was at a time when Hunt was a hot property in Hollywood. She had been on a hit TV series ("Mad About You"), and she had had a hit movie ("Twister") before she made "As Good As It Gets" — and she was in another hit movie ("Cast Away") a few years later. But she had never been nominated for an Oscar before.

That changed 15 years ago.

Nicholson's credits speak for themselves. He had not only been nominated for Best Actor Oscars before he made "As Good As It Gets," he had actually won one — for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

On that occasion, he made movie history — of a sort. It was the first time in more than 40 years that a movie had won Oscars for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

With "As Good As It Gets," Nicholson made a different kind of history. He and Hunt both won Oscars, which isn't nearly as uncommon as a sweep of the big five, but it is still a rather rare achievement.

Of the two, Hunt's triumph may have been the more surprising. Nicholson, as I said, took home the Oscar more than 20 years earlier (and again for Best Supporting Actor in the 1980s), but Hunt, a first–time nominee, was at least a bit of a surprise, I suppose, considering that one of her rivals was Kate Winslet for her performance in the titanic blockbuster "Titanic" and three other women who were movie veterans.

But Hunt really brought qualities to her role that weren't necessarily in the script.

Everyone remembers Nicholson's lines — like his response to a fawning receptionist who wanted to know how he managed to write female characters so well ("I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability").

Or the time Nicholson told Hunt she made him "want to be a better man."

Heck, even the title of the movie comes from one of his lines — speaking to a psychiatrist's waiting room filled with patients, he said, "What if this is as good as it gets?"

But Hunt's lines were frequently the most sincere. Most likely, they were intended as setup lines for Nicholson, but so often Hunt did things with her eyes or her voice that conveyed so much more — and told the audience so much more about the character.