As a tribute to my personal favorite actor, as sparked by the previous post of my favorite leading men of all time, I’ll be taking it upon myself to see as many of the films of Jack Nicholson as I can in the coming weeks. This first tribute post to Mr. Nicholson will be in regards to my personal favorite performance of his.
Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets (1997)
In my humble opinion, Jack has never been quite as on point as in As Good As It Gets. Not only does he get to play a complete obsessive-compulsive neurotic nut-case, but he also does it with such natural ease, it kind of makes you wonder how much like Melvin he is in his real life. With the assistance of the so strange-looking he’s adorable Verdell, Jack and his eventual pooch pal make for several scenes where Jack not only gets to use his signature eyebrow emphasis, but he also gets to form the most believable love bond in the entire movie: a man and his dog. Though the Academy saw fit to reward his semi-romantic interest in the film, Helen Hunt gives such a one-note performance, I can’t think of anything to say but “thank you,” because it left audiences with a pristine showcase of Mr. Nicholson’s talents.
I mean, I didn’t necessarily have a problem with Hunt’s scenes, as long as they also included Nicholson. She made admiral attempts at making their romance more believable, but the film would’ve been equally, if not more, effective had they kept their relationship at an awkward love-hate friendship. Their interactions in the cafe were priceless (“People who talk in metaphors oughta shampoo my crotch.”), but the bottom line is that when it was time to get serious (i.e. “And to prove it, I have not gotten personal, and you have.”), Jack commanded every scene.
So, what better way to start off an extended series on my ultimate of ultimates in actordom, Jack, than to begin with my personal favorite performance? Melvin Udall is quite clearly a cartoon of himself, but when has Jack not had a little bit of cartoon in his blood? He fully embodied this otherwise hateful persona and made Melvin a dignified, if bigoted, man of a certain age. Just never mind the three to four bars of soap per wash or the incessant sidewalk crack avoidance. Melvin is the hard-to-love uncle that everyone has, and Nicholson is just the man for the job.
Jack’s Performance: A
The Film: A