“As Good As It Gets” in Kazakhstan

I feel like the Helen Hunt character, Carol the waitress,  from “As Good As It Gets” which came out the same year Titanic did.  Both Jack Nicholson and Hunt deftly swept up the Best Actor and Best Actress award against all the other awards Titanic captured.  These two actors deserved it, I’ve watched this movie maybe about ten times.  The lines in AGAIG are quick, quirky and very funny.  The one simple line I especially like is delivered by Carol to Melvin, “Pay me a compliment, Melvin.”  Then she instructs him with, “A compliment is something nice.”  I’m waiting for some word of encouragement or even a compliment from my employers about my teaching these last two years at my “former” place of employment. 

The three misfits in this hilarious comedy are probably based on real life people in New York. It would be very difficult to make up these characters and their lines from one’s imagination. First is Melvin the neurotic, but very successful novelist. Next Helen, the cash strapped waitress who is also a single mom living with her mother. Finally, Simon, the gay guy who is an artist but has hit rock bottom, he is friendless and without money to support his lifestyle.

I claim to be similar to the Helen Hunt character of Carol and as a New York city waitress, she had a service mentality. She served Melvin his daily meals. I came to Kazakhstan to serve the people and was barely paid minimum wage after paying all the expenses of airfare and housing in high priced Almaty.  As a working Mom, Carol had to take care of her ailing son.  I taught academic English courses to my Kazakh and Kazakhstani students so they would not fail their classes in their future academic career.  Carol, the waitress, was uneasy about getting involved with Melvin because he was so rude to everyone and to her.  She regained her dignity when Simon made her feel good about herself.  He drew her from an artist’s point of view because he valued her beauty as a person.  Westerners are like that, identifying the individual for the gifts and talents they possess and reveling in that.

I see Simon as personifying Western ideas, he was accustomed to a fine lifestyle of luxury and the fine art.  However, that crashed in around him when his flat was broken into by vandals and he was beaten up very badly.  I see at our place of employment there is a fair share of America bashing going on since supposedly our institution was based on an American system of education.  Discrimination against Simon and at the same time against anything American seems to be in vogue for some people at my institution of higher learning.  Some say negative things to my face about how America has done this wrong or we as Americans aren’t correct on some other policy.  What do people say about Americans behind my back?  I shudder to think.  Well, Simon loves his little dog and that’s what helps get him through his ordeal.  Incidentally, the little dog plays an important role in this movie.  I believe he should have gotten an Academy award as well for bringing Melvin and Simon together as tolerant “friends.”

However, Melvin has an evil streak coursing through his cold veins.  At the beginning of the movie, he throws Simon’s dog down the garbage chute.  No reasonable explanation is given except that he seems to hate Simon and what he stands for.  Melvin is full of paranoia and he needs therapy.  Melvin has a huge ego and is a frustrated, demanding old man but paradoxically writes novels about romance. Yet he knows nothing about love and spends his life pretending there’s nothing wrong with him. He has to have everything completely sanitized and clean and he locks many doors to his flat because of his many fears. 

Enter Carol the waitress into the picture to encourage Melvin, the twisted old novelist, to re-enter the human race of compassion. She boldly helps confront his fears about relationships head on. The rest of the movie portrays how guy meets girl and with the help of a gay, the two finally get together all the while taking baby steps. There is “give” and there is “take.”

That is why I would love to say to my former employers, who have acted like Melvin sometimes, “Pay me a compliment…a compliment is something nice.”  I guess if there were a sequel to this movie, it would be that Melvin broke up with Helen. That part makes me sad.

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