Melvin (Jack Nicholson) is a reclusive writer who compulsively abuses everyone he meets. But his strict routine is shaken up when his favourite waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) leaves his regular restaurant, and his gay stereotype neighbour (Greg Kinnear) needs his help.
This creepy, weird film was apparently made before the idea of a comedy in which the main character repeatedly commits hate crimes against minorities seemed unpleasant, or by people who were just oblivious to it. Of course, the fact he’s a hateful prick is the point of the film, but the level of change he goes through is far too small to justify it – by the end of the film he is just about able to pay his love interest a complement, when what’s needed is Phone Booth-style soul baring.
He has the unrelenting nastiness of Ricky Gervais in Afterlife (or real life for that matter). His positive acts are almost entirely self-serving, including paying medical bills for Carol’s son as an in-road for his sexual advances. If there’s a better argument for universal healthcare I haven’t seen it.
Nicholson is as intense and maniacal as you’d expect, but also handles the comedic aspects well. There’s something of B. Rosenberger Rosenberg about this dysfunctional writer, but with the compulsive political correctness flipped on its head. Hunt is equally excellent, although it’s not entirely clear why the young-looking 34 year old was cast as somone in their fifties – adding another creepy, weird element to the film.
Both actors won virtually the only two Oscars that didn’t go to Titanic in that sorry year. Directed and co-written by original Simpsons producer James L. Brooks, and featuring Lisa Simpson herself, Yeardley Smith, it’s neither as funny or heartwarming as The Simpsons at its best. There are some good moments, but they’re mere droplets in a torrent of nastiness. If this is as good as it gets I don’t want to see an off day…