As Good as It Gets [1997]

My Best Friend's Wedding One of the best romantic comedies of the 1990s, My Best Friend's Wedding not only gave Julia Roberts a delightful vehicle for her crowd-pleasing comeback, but it further distinguished itself by avoiding the conventional plotting of the genre. Julia plays a prominent Chicago restaurant critic whose best friend (Dermot Mulroney) is a former lover from her college days with whom she'd made a binding pact: if neither of them were married by the age of 28, they'd marry each other. Just when they're about to reach the deadline of their agreement, Mulroney arrives in Chicago to introduce Roberts to his seemingly perfect fiancée (Cameron Diaz) and announce their wedding in just three days. That leaves the shocked Julia with just three short days to sabotage the wedding and marry the man she now realizes she's loved all along. With potential heartbreak waiting in the wings, she'll either get what she wants or pay the price for her selfish behavior, and Ronald Bass's cleverly constructed screenplay keeps us guessing to the very end. Rupert Everett scored rave reviews for his scene-stealing performance as Robert's gay friend who goes along with her scheming (but only so far), and even as she makes her character's needy desperation disarmingly appealing, Roberts wisely allows Diaz to capitalize on her charming time in the spotlight. As the romantic outcome remains uncertain, the viewer is held in a state of giddy suspense, and director P.J. Hogan pulls off some hilarious scenes (like a restaurant full of people singing the Dionne Warwick hit "I Say a Little Prayer") that could easily have fallen flat in the hands of a less talented filmmaker. It's no surprise that this was one of the box-office smashes of 1997. --Jeff Shannon Sleepless in Seattle The director and stars of 1998's You've Got Mail scored a breakthrough hit with this hugely popular romantic comedy from 1993, about a recently engaged woman (Meg Ryan) who hears the sad story of a grieving widower (Tom Hanks) on the radio and believes that they're destined to be together. She's single in New York, he lives in Seattle with a young son, but the cross-country attraction proves irresistible, and pretty soon Meg's on a westbound flight. What happens from there is ... well, you must have been living in a cave to have let this sweet-hearted comedy slip below your pop-cultural radar. There's little complexity or depth to writer-director Nora Ephron's cheesy tale of a romantic fait accompli, and more than a little contrivance to the subplots that threaten to keep Hanks and Ryan from actually meeting. But the purity of star chemistry here is hard to deny, and this may be the first film to indicate the more serious and sympathetic side of Hanks that is revealed in later roles. With its clever jokes about "chick movies" and repeated homage to the classic weeper An Affair to Remember, this may not be everybody's brand of amorous entertainment, but it's got an old-Hollywood charm that appeals to many a movie fan. --Jeff Shannon The Wedding Planner The good news is, yes, Jennifer Lopez can do comedy. In The Wedding Planner Lopez is Mary, a lovable woman who believes "those who can't do, teach. Those who can't wed, plan!" Her slapstick moments are lighthearted and she is spot-on as the controlling, compulsive-yet-sweet planner. The bad news is Lopez didn't get much of a vehicle in which to test drive her newfound comedic skills. Mary's life is her career. Planning other people's weddings takes all of her time, leaving no room for a love life of her own. Her only personal life is a Scrabble club, to which she and her father (Alex Rocco, whose wandering Italian accent is painful to listen to) belong. When a handsome young doctor (Matthew McConaughey) saves her from a collision with a runaway dumpster (really, it works), she is instantly wooed by his quiet charm. Too bad he's the fiancé of Mary's biggest client, Fran (played winningly by Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), the job that will launch Mary as a partner in her firm. The main problem with this film is that no one wants to hurt anyone else's feelings. Everyone is just so gosh-darn nice. In a subplot, Mary's father is trying to arrange her marriage to just the nicest Italian boy. Gee, he's sweet. Golly, Fran is nice. Is there ever a way out of this mess and to leave everyone smiling? Yet, there is a touch of old-fashioned romance to this wholesome film, which can only be described as "cute." And while things may unfold in a predictable manner, The Wedding Planner is still lighthearted fun of the sort that inspires dreamy romantic thoughts. --Jenny Brown As Good as It Gets For all of its conventional plotting about an obsessive-compulsive curmudgeon (Jack Nicholson) who improves his personality at the urging of his gay neighbor (Greg Kinnear) and a waitress (Helen Hunt) who inspires his best behavior, this is one of the sharpest Hollywood comedies of the 1990s. Nicholson could play his role in his sleep (the Oscar he won should have gone to Robert Duvall for The Apostle), but his mischievous persona is precisely necessary to give heart to his seemingly heartless character, who is of all things a successful romance novelist. As a single mom with a chronically asthmatic young son, Hunt gives the film its conscience and integrity (along with plenty of wry humor), and she also won an Oscar for her wonderful performance. Greg Kinnear had to settle for an Oscar nomination (while cowriter-director James L. Brooks was inexplicably snubbed by Oscar that year), but his work was also singled out in the film's near-unanimous chorus of critical praise. It's questionable whether a romance between Hunt and the much older Nicholson is entirely believable, but this movie's smart enough--and charmingly funny enough--to make it seem endearingly possible. --Jeff Shannon

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