As Good As It Gets
(15) 139 mins * *tk
' As romantic comedies go, it’s an odd pairing: a mentally ill misanthrope and a gutsy younger woman. She's a great catch and he's the last man on earth you would want to share a table with, but the match works thanks to a sharply witty script and spot-on performances from Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt, with Greg Kinnear in support.
Melvin Udall (Nicholson), a twisted and neurotic writer of romantic fiction, lives alone and unloved in a New York appartment. A sufferer of obsessive-compulsive disorder, his daily routines are rigid and isolating, and he has lost all confidence in his ability to communicate with other people. By way of compensation, Melvin has become a master of abuse, and anyone who crosses his path gets an earful.
Every day he visits the local restaurant and is served by Carol (Hunt), the only person tough enough to take him on. This relationship proves the key that unlocks Melvin, and Carol realises that what she thought was impossible might just happen.
Mark Andrus and director James L. Brooks (Terms Of Endearment. Broadcast News) wrote the script, and at times they make Melvin so revolting that he is a shocking
reminder of everything we are not allowed to say. 'How did you know we were Jewish?’ asks a man who has been racially abused by the character. 'You’ve got big
noses,’ says Melvin.
Lines like this make us feel uneasy, and the comedy wavers; but the trick of the film is to keep us on Melvin's side — just. He insults people with a confidence that is dazzling, even liberating. At other times, we remember he is mentally ill, and so laughter becomes tinged with sympathy. Nicholson's charismatic presence
Still waiting: Helen Hunt in As Good As it Gets
is vital, because however much of a bastard he becomes, he is always wryly charming and noble. The film's greatest ruse is to endear Melvin to us to
such an extent that we are actually rooting for him to
become Carol's boyfriend. Considered from a distance, this is an absurd match, but As Good As It Gets has its own romantic logic, which, very much like Jerry Maguire — which Brooks executive produced - is more convincing at the time than in retrospect. (Hannah Fries)
I General release from Fri 73 Mar.
Scandal mongrel: Dustin Hoffman in Wag The Dog
Wag The Dog
(15) 97 mins * * *
Even if the premise of this David Mamet scripted political satire seems a little far-fetched, there's no doubting the prescience of the movie: a spin doctor cooks up a fictitious war to help a US Presrdent through a tricky re- election campaign. Adapted from the novel American Hero, and done-and- dusted well before the Monica Lewrnsky scandal surfaced, you only have to marvel at Bill Clinton's political ineptitude that he could allow himself
to be entangled in a snare that even a bunch of Hollywood filmmakers could see a mile off.
Outside its frightenineg impeccable timing, Wag The Dog‘s satire comes in heavy handed form. Once you’ve hauled your raw off the floor when the nature of the Presidential crisis becomes clear — the never-seen Chief Exec entertains a visiting girl scout in a side-room off the Oval Office — a potentially acidic narrative begins to flounder under the weight of its own complications.
Spin doctor Conrad Brean (the hit- the-ground-running presence of Robert De Niro) turns to Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to orchestrate the pseudo-conflict, and the movie is at its funniest when watching Motss at work — creating fake footage, composung patriotic songs, and the like.
it's as director Barry Levrnson pushes the plot-line along its rollercoaster track that things start to fall apart. Spiked by the CIA, Brean and Motss are forced to shelve their war; with a limited number of days to fill before the election, they begin improvising madly to distract press attention from the lurking sexual shenanigans. As one ’problem’ after another is encountered and solved, the cool, ironic tone of the opening section is rapidly replaced by one of simple hysteria.
Wag The Dog is an impressive testament to life’s habit of imitating art, but the feeling remains that the art might have been improved if more attention had been paid to life. (Andrew Pulver)
I Selected release from Fri 73 Mar.
new releases FILM Mrs Dalloway
(PG) 97 mins * t a:
With Oscar-Winning actress Vanessa Redgrave in the title role and a Virginia Woolf novel as its inspiration, Mrs Dalloway has the right ingredients for a moving and romantic period drama about an intelligent and vibrant woman.
Set in 1923, with numerous flashbacks to 1890, this colourful film presents the thoughts, memories and actions of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle- aged socrety lady, as she prepares for her own evening party on one single summer day in London.
As she bristles happily about town, bumping into friends and colleagues on the way, we are transported into the past. She reminisces about being a young girl (played by Natascha McElhone), courted by both Peter Walsh (Alan Cox) and Richard Dalloway (Robert Portal), and sharing dreams of changing the world with her best friend Sally (Lena Headey).
Now, in the present day and married to Richard (John Standing), she asks herself if those dreams have been fulfilled. With Peter (Michael Kitchen) unexpectedly turning up to see her, she starts to question her life's path, and when the seemingly unconnected news of a young shell-shocked man’s suicide (Rupert Graves) comes to her attention, she addresses her feelings about destiny, truth and life itself.
Beautifully filmed in a period London and held together by a strong British cast, this film by Maureen Gorris — director of the Oscar-winning Antoni'a’s Line — is honest, touching and universally appealing. The performances of both McElhone and Redgrave as the younger and older Clarissa — one combining optimism with innocence; the other, optimism with a personal angursh over her own destiny —- build to form a very rounded portrait.
Unfortunately, it is not immediately apparent that those 'surnmer in the country’ scenes full of young people are flashback sequences, but once this confusion is overcome, Mrs Dalloway can be enjoyed as a wonderfully life- affirming picture of a society lady. (Beth Williams)
I Glasgow Film Theatre from Fri 73 Mar. Edinburgh Filmhouse from Fri 27 Mar. Life in a day: Rupert Graves in Mrs Dalloway . 1%.:
STAR RATINGS Hi i M Unmissable- Hm * Very at Hz Wort a shot *1: Below average,» * You’ve been'warned'
6—- l 9 Mar 1998 THE UST 29