Sunday, January 14, 2007

James L. Brooks Shows You How To… …pay the ultimate compliment (even if you’re big old jerk) 05.23.00

You may not be the most eloquent speaker. You may not be able to articulate your feelings. Maybe you’re just an assh*le. But you may still have it in you to deliver the ultimate compliment. The kind of compliment that leaves the complimented sitting mouth agape in stunned silence. When it finally registers, the only response is simply, “That's may be the best compliment of my life.”

Take this scene, for instance, from writer/director James L. Brooks (and co-writer Mark Andrus) in the film As Good As It Gets. Melvin (Jack Nicholson), a curmudgeonly writer with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, as difficult as it is for him, is attempting to change his rigid schedule and his life to woo Carol (Helen Hunt), the young waitress with whom he is falling in love.

Notice how that when threatened with possibly losing the woman he loves forever, even a right bastard like Melvin surpasses all expectations:

Melvin, pay me a compliment... I
need one and quick... You have no
idea how much what you said just
hurt my feelings.

(really pissed,mutters)
That minute somebody gets that
you need them they threaten to go
away. Never fails.

That's not a compliment, Melvin...
That's just trying to sound smart
so I feel stupid... A compliment is
something nice about somebody else...
Now or never.


He waves her down.

And mean it...

Can we order first?

She thinks and then nods. The waiter is across the room.

This does not stop Melvin.

Two crab dinners and pitcher of cold beer. (to Carol)
Baked or fries?


One baked -- one fries.

(shouting back)
I'll tell your waiter.

(to Carol)
Okay, I got a real great compliment
for you, and it's true.

I am so afraid you're about to say
something awful...

Don't be pessimistic. It's not your
style. Okay... Here I goes... Clearly a
(this is hell for him)
I have this -- what? Ailment... And my
doctor -- a shrink... who I used to see
all the time... he says 50 or 60 percent
of the time a pill can really help. I
hate pills. Very dangerous things, pills.
"Hate," I am using the word "hate" about
pills. My compliment is that when you came
to my house that time and told me how
you'd never -- well, you were there, you
know. The next morning I started taking
these pills.

(a little confused)
I don't quite get how that's a compliment
for me.

Amazingly, something in Melvin rises to the occasion -- so that he uncharacteristically looks at her directly -- then:
You make me want to be a better man.

Carol never expected the kind of praise which would so slip under her guard. She stumbles a bit -- flattered, momentarily moved and his for the taking.

That's may be the best compliment of
my life.

Then I've really overshot here 'cause
I was aiming at just enough to keep you
from walking out.

It’s a funny scene. It’s a scene with a lot going on. And it’s one of the most heartwarming moments in film. After he nearly completely botches everything. Melvin waffles a bit, but then wows Carol… by just being honest.

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