To say that this is a comedy about a man, a waitress and a cute dog would be like saying The Simpsons is a cartoon about a family of yellow people who live in a dull American town. James L Brooks, the man partly responsible for both creations, has made some-thing refreshingly unique in As Good As It Gets, a romantic comedy that really can appeal to everybody.
Yet it's not a different formula, or the directing, that sets it apart. It's the politically incorrect script - with Melvin spouting homophobic and sexist quips that, implausibly, deliver the laughs. How does Brooks get away with irate nastiness such as "people who talk in analogies should have to shampoo my crotch"? Simple: Nicholson. As Melvin Udall, his impeccable comic timing and devilish persona transcend all moral judgement. You'll find you justify his stinging audacity with a "it's just Jack", and love him all the more for it.
Balancing out Melvin's nastiness is the cutest dog on film. All teddy bear eyes and Hugh Grant fringe, its regular appearances bump up the film's appeal - the self-same appeal that's rudely dented by Nicholson's crusading, anti-everything stance.
The pooch is the key to the beginning of Melvin's redemption. When his gay neighbour (the dog's owner) goes into hospital, Melvin has to look after it. Gradually, his cold heart is warmed, by the doggie and the time he spends with others, including Helen Hunt as the no-nonsense waitress he learns to love. It sounds trite, schmaltzy, but it works. It's also very satisfying.