Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., July 25
As Good As It Gets
Boastfully misnamed, but well above average: an eccentric, bordering on bizarre, romantic triangle composed of an obsessive-compulsive homophobic misogynistic racist antisemitic (misanthropic, in short, besides dog-hating) best-selling romance novelist, and a next-door homosexual painter with a push-faced little pooch and a black art dealer, and a single-mom waitress with a sick little boy. The respective work of the writer and painter is only sketchily characterized, and the delightful dog disappears for too long a stretch in the flagging second half, and the little boy never comes into focus as an individual, a major oversight in light of developments. And while the movie must be credited for manufacturing more unusual and more problematical complications than the standard romantic comedy, it betrays itself in the neatness with which these are ultimately (albeit arduously) cleared up. Greg Kinnear, as the painter, comes off better than normal mainly because the circumstances are better. And Helen Hunt, no revelation to regular or occasional viewers of her Mad about You sitcom, is a slick, smooth, if shallow comedienne. The real revelation, strange to say, is Jack Nicholson, so commanding a presence for so long a time that we are apt to take him for granted. If his performance here is as surface-y as Hunt's, his range of expression, from full-body stance to the tiniest fluctuation of those famous eyebrows, is seemingly boundless; and the most amazing thing about him at this stage of his career is how hard he is still willing to work. With Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Shirley Knight; directed by James Brooks. 1997.
- Rated PG-13