I remember when this came out, the advertising was all about Jack Nicholson's Melvin Udall, who was billed as Archie Bunker with the offensiveness dialed up to eleven, and the film itself billed as a typical "grumpy mean guy learns to love" tale or something of that nature. And yes, it is that, but the movie is a lot more intelligent and insightful about it than that basic plot description makes it sound. It's not just about Melvin and his goofy infatuation with his server (Carol Connelly, played by Helen Hunt) at the restaurant on which he has chosen to inflict his aggressive OCD tendencies, and very early on the film affords us glimpses into Melvin that suggest that there's a lot more than just jerkiness going on under his skin -- such as the look on his face when he slips up and says something to Carol that's way over the line, and he realizes it's way over the line before she tells him point-blank how over the line it was.
Anyway, As Good As It Gets is chock-full of quotable dialog, some of which has become fairly well-known over the years. I'm sure the movie will show up again on this feature, but for now, here's a wonderful scene that gets overlooked. What's happening here is that Melvin has been strong-armed into taking his gay artist neighbor, Simon, to Baltimore so Simon can beg his estranged parents for money. Sensing an opportunity, Melvin then convinces Carol to go along, which she does, because she's desperate for a chance to see something other than the restaurant where she works, the apartment where she lives, and the hospital where she takes her sickly son. The problem, for Melvin, is that Carol and Simon quickly form a friendly connection that Melvin sees as some kind of threatening: not a romantic rivalry, per se, but a competition for time with Carol that he feels is rightly his. And Melvin can't help himself but inject some of his own insight, which the film treats brilliantly as both annoying and partly true.
I think that's a big reason why this movie is so good: Melvin can be annoying and offensive and downright full of shit, but there are times when it's clear that he's also right, at least in part. This is one of them.
EXT. ROAD - DAY A short time later. Carol is now driving. CAROL I'm sure, Simon, they did something real off for you to feel this way... But when it comes to your partners -- or your kid -- things will always be off for you unless you set it straight. Maybe this thing happened to you just to give you that chance. MELVIN Nonsense! CAROL Anybody here who's interested in what Melvin has to say raise their hands. Simon does not raise his hand. Simon and Carol have thus declared their majority. SIMON Do you want to know what happened with my parents? CAROL Yes. I really would. SIMON Well... CAROL No, let me pull over so I can pay full attention. Car pulling over toward parking spot. EXT. HIGHWAY - CURBSIDE - CONVERTIBLE - DAY She takes the car curbside and parks. CAROL Now go ahead. Simon looks back at Melvin as does Carol. He looks innocent. Several beats -- Melvin almost says something -- a hidden hand gesture from Carol stops him. Finally. SIMON Well, I always painted. Always. And my mother always encouraged it. She was sort of fabulous about it actually... and she used to... I was too young to think there was anything at all wrong with it... and she was very natural. She used to pose nude for me... and I thought or assumed my father was aware of it. MELVIN This stuff is pointless. CAROL Hey -- you let him... MELVIN You like sad stories -- you want mine. CARL Stop. Go ahead, Simon. Really. Please. Don't let him stop you. Ignore him. SIMON Okay. Well, one day my father came in on one of those painting sessions when I was nine -- and he just started screaming at her -- at us -- at evil. And... MELVIN (very quickly) ... my father didn't leave his room for 11 years -- he hit my hand with a yardstick if I made a mistake on the piano. CAROL Go ahead, Simon. Your father walked in on you and was yelling and... really, come on. SIMON I was trying to defend my mother and make peace, in the lamest way. I said, "she's not naked -- it's art." And then he started hitting me. And he beat me unconscious. After that he talked to me less and less -- he knew before I left for college, my dad came into my room. He held out his hand. It was filled with money. A big wad of sweaty money. (gathers himself) And he said to me, "I don't want you to ever come back." I grabbed him and I hugged him... He turns and walked out. Carol, whose life has been rugged but basic, feels as strange as she does moved by Simon's trauma which is so much more complicated than her meat and potatoes troubles. She looks out her window -- then kisses her fingers and touches them to Simon's cheek. A nice, understated, gesture of friendship. CAROL Well, you know -- I still stay what I said. You've got to get past it all when it comes to your parents. We all have these horror stories to get over. Melvin shifts INTO the FRAME. 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 not anybody in this car. But lots of people -- that's their story -- good times and noodle salad... and that's what makes it hard. Not that you had it bad but being that pissed that so many had it good. CAROL No. SIMON Not it at all, really. MELVIN (a veteran's irony) Not at all, huh?!... Let's go to the hotel. And if you're lucky tomorrow Dad will give you another wad of sweaty money.
That metaphor cracks me up: "Good times, noodle salad". I just love the idea of a mind wired so that a primary image of someone living a life of relative happiness involves noodle salad.