Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt won Oscars in this James L. Brooks comedy about a cantankerous romance writer with OCD (Nicholson) and a worn-out, single mother waitress (Hunt) who meticulously serves him at the only Manhattan diner at which he will eat. Nicholson is a holy terror, complaining “there are Jews at my table” when it is occupied. At home, he is no better, throwing the dog of his gay artist neighbor (Greg Kinnear, who won a best supporting actor Oscar) down the trash chute. But Nicholson is soon drawn into the world he loathes out of necessity. Hunt has to leave her job because of the health of her son, and Kinnear is beaten into a wheelchair by local thugs, which leaves Nicholson to take care of his dog. The man has to eat, and he bonds totally with the pooch, so soon, he is arranging for medical treatment for Hunt’s child and acting as support for Kinnear. In the process, he and Hunt begin a relationship that is halting at best.
This picture can be riotously funny, and Nicholson gets all the good lines, including my favorite.
If I have a problem with the movie, it is Hunt’s character. Her harried waitress is overbearing, self-pitying and often bullying, and her demand for control is every bit as off-putting as Nicholson’s knee-jerk rudeness and his fear of cracks on the sidewalk. Yet Brooks denies us any judgment of her – she is presented as plagued, but somehow noble. Mind you, Hunt’s performance is excellent, but her character is unpleasant without the benefit of making me laugh, and my teeth are always set on edge during her scenes.
That’s probably my hang-up.