The title arises from a crack that sourpuss writer Melvin Udall (Jack Nicholson) makes in a roomful of shrink patients: “Is this as good as it gets?” Close.
Nothing’s going well for Melvin. Which is to say he isn’t getting his way. First, the only person who bothers listening to him, a waitress named Carol (Helen Hunt), puts her ailing son first. If that weren’t enough, annoyingly gay neighbor Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear) needs Melvin to take care of his dog Verdell, which Melvin does with the enthusiasm of a carrot. But Melvin, remember, is a pulling a Nicholson: he’s a cranky shard of chain lightening that jabs at his planet-mates until they give up or bite back. And when they do snap, he’s humbled. Or at least made more aware that he exists in a society that has a membership wider than himself.
This is old hat for Nicholson, but the exquisite Hunt and Kinnear make James L. Brooks’ movie something truly special. Nicholson and Hunt deservedly won best actor Oscars, but Kinnear was flat-out robbed.