An inveterate sourpuss learns the value of love and charity when he is forced to care for a neighbour's dog.
Meet Melvin Udall, the Archie Bunker of the 90s. Melvin is the dysfunctional darling of this outrageous, politically incorrect comedy from the wag who brought us Broadcast News and produces The Simpsons, James L. Brooks. Brooks also steered Jack Nicholson to an Oscar in Terms Of Endearment, a feat the duo repeated here. Nicholson is on top of his sneering, eyebrow-arching game as Melvin The Misanthrope, obnoxious and offensive to everyone who crosses his path. He's racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic and, for good measure, nasty to a small dog. The only excuse offered is that he suffers - ripely so - from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Ergo he's nutty as a fruitcake - which gives him licence to howl such disgraceful one-liners as would probably get a real person (or an actor less devilishly delicious than Nicholson) beaten up or arrested. Melvin earns his crust, absurdly, writing cheesy romance novels, and lives as reclusively as he can in a Manhattan apartment. One of his obsessive rituals is breakfasting daily at a cafe where only salty waitress Carol (Hunt) - a single mother with her own stressful woes - will tolerate Melvin's diatribes and sass him back.When Simon (Kinnear), the gay artist who lives across the hall, is hospitalised, old misery-guts Melvin is coerced by Simon's agent (Gooding Jr.) into caring for his despised neighbour's ugly but endearing mutt and - you betcha! - bonding is soon afoot as the pooch wags its way into Melvin's corroded heart. Thus softened up, Melvin is reluctantly but irrevocably goaded into a series of grudging good deeds which are entirely motivated by self-interest but which inch him in the general direction of humanity and improbable but superb redemption.Hunt, long a top TV sitcom star in the US, is wonderfully adept at comic repartee as the long-suffering Carol, dishing it out as well as she takes it, but she's also genuine and moving, while former chat show host Kinnear is surprisingly effective in the teary, somebody-needs-a-hug portion of the nicely plotted and well paced proceedings. The lead trio get amusing back-up from Gooding Jr., Yeardley Smith (a.k.a. the voice of Lisa Simpson), veteran Shirley Knight as Carol's mother and Skeet Ulrich as the street hustler who brings disaster into Melvin and Simon's building.
A healthy sense of irony is required to accept the unprintable tirades from Melvin's mouth and the less malevolent jests, the film being intended in the spirit of Nicholson's serenade: the Pythons' Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.