February 1, 1998 -- Jack Nicholson, one of our greatest actors, gives a tremendous performance as an obsessive-compulsive curmudgeon in this strange love story, featuring kids, a cute dog and temperamental artists.
Nicholson plays romance writer Melvin Udall, a man obsessed with germs, cracks in the sidewalk and with maintaining an exact routine each day. Every day he goes to the same restaurant to get the same meal from the same waitress, Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt of TV's "Mad About You").
Then one day, Melvin's routine is disrupted. An artist neighbor, Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear) is badly beaten and Melvin is forced to take care of Bishop's dog (an extremely cute little example of the rare breed known as Belgian Griffon dogs). His favorite waitress is forced to stay home to take care of her son (played by a kid -- I'm not making this up -- whose name is Jesse James).
Melvin tries to get his routine back under control by hiring a doctor to take care of the kid so her mother can go back to work, to serve him lunch. This gets him even more involved in the lives of Connelly and Bishop, climaxing in his decision to drive Bishop and Connelly to Baltimore.
Although a lot of this movie hangs on the performance of Nicholson as the likable curmudgeon, Hunt is equal to the challenge. Cuba Gooding Jr. also weighs in with a good performance as Bishop's art agent. Kinnear is also very effective as the gay non-assertive artist. Shirley Knight sparkles as Connelly's mother. The dog, of course, upstages everybody.
There are some funny and charming lines, but the film is overlong and it rambles a bit. Fortunately, it does develop the characters and the characters are worth getting to know. Director James L. Brooks (Jerry McGuire) is adept at comedy and shows it in this film. This film rates a C+.
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