Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear, Cuba Gooding Jr., Shirley Knight, Jesse James (his first film), Skeet Ulrich, Yeardley Smith, Harold Ramis
Director: James L. Brooks
Summary: An obsessive-compulsive writer comes out of his shell to help a struggling waitress and an injured artist
Other Nominations: Actor (Nicholson)*, Actress (Hunt)*, Supporting Actor (Kinnear), Original Screenplay, Musical/Comedy Score, Film Editing
The movie lost me within 10 minutes because of a fundamental problem. Jack Nicholson’s character is more than just lonely, obsessive-compulsive and abrasive-he throws someone else’s dog down a garbage chute in an apartment complex and makes homophobic, racist and anti-semitic remarks. He starts out too despicable to be convincingly redeemed by a dog and a woman, especially in the format of a 2 hour and 15 minute movie-this would be like if Jake LaMotta became a nice guy after he got a cat and a nicer girlfriend or something. Sure, there have been rom-com protagonists who have started with impure motives (Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, Clark Gable in It Happened One Night) or have significant character flaws, but they never start out as sadistic.
This is a shame, because the movie has a number of redeeming qualities to it. Hunt is very likeable and a great lead; not sure she should have won Best Actress, but she’s still the best part of the movie. Brooks knows how to write quality dialogue even if the script as a whole has some serious issues. Also credit to them that in 1997 they made Kinnear (who gives a good performance) more than just a stock “gay neighbor” (like George Carlin in Prince of Tides), him being gay is relatively unimportant, he’s just presented as a normal, fully fleshed out character. Ultimately though, the aforementioned big issue for me at least (along with it feeling cookie-cutter from a plotting standpoint) brought down what could have been a really solid rom-com.