As Good As It Gets
A literary colleague has kindly offered his unpublished opinion of As Good As It Gets. Knowing his views are not shared, he has nonetheless granted permission to give them here in extenso, which is worthwhile for the sake of their piquancy and dash, also one hopes to show him the error of his ways.
Helen Hunt cannot act. That’s all. In every film she approaches the human plane along an asymptotic curve and then works her face out of it—a face which is her misfortune because of its distracting resemblance to that of a very fine actor, Anthony Zerbe.
Only once before have I seen a performance so bad it stopped the show, and that was on a television series (now canceled) with a recurring character who hammed it up so dreadfully that a very proficient guest star sharing the scene was reduced to staring blankly as if waiting for the director to yell “cut.” Shaw has an eloquent description of a bad Shakespearean actress which I do not quote only because Hunt is not quite the type (though she is a bad Shakespearean actress also).
Shirley Knight, fat and middle-aged, gives a performance so transparent it’s a breath of fresh air personified, and she too is silenced. Cuba Gooding and Greg Kinnear cannot act, but they are not obsessively bad like Hunt (or Spielberg, as a director), and do not crush the life out of their parts.
Jack Nicholson shows in one shot what brilliant acting is, and in another the Bressonian ideal of presence, unless you count his entire performance as simply recorded under duress.
James L. Brooks in I’ll Do Anything seemed to be pursuing fairies in the San Fernando Valley. Here his arbitrary direction is so feckless that, all in all, it’s like watching a blooper reel in which TV stars grinding through ineradicably dull shows suddenly find life irrupting on them, and are revealed to be talented people after all, or at least human beings with a sense of humor. When his show is stopped dead by Hunt, New York fills the void, seeping in everywhere to give a real sense of atmosphere you can’t buy or manufacture.
Yes, New York is the real star of As Good As It Gets.
One cannot be sure that this colleague knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Bresson (or anything else for that matter). One merely points out, on the other hand, that Hunt’s acting style was a commonplace on The WB, as TimeWarner called its television network.