I mean, do you realize this movie got both Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress in 1997? I mean, what kind of horrible year that must have been for Hollywood?
Jack Nicholson plays an obsessive-compulsive writer (who oddly barely ever writes) that becomes a grouchy hermit. As such, the role seems to have been written for Mr. Nicholson, who has a history of playing slightly crazy, solitary characters. Helen Hunt, who in turn has a history of playing the romantic interest of much older and much uglier guys, plays a waitress who has trouble making ends meet. The third one in the party is Greg Kinnear, the gay painter next door.
It may be fitting that the movie was nominated for the acting, but not for anything else. Someone on IMDB indeed comments that the story overall is too schmaltzy to be acceptable, but that the acting makes up for it by making every scene believable.
I wouldn't go as far, and I would even go as far saying that the acting was probably not worthy of such high praise. At the same time, the ensemble pulls off quite the stunt by making you watch through the movie without crying about the clichés.
What may be really bothering me about the story is not even its predictability (albeit it came quite as a shock that the Helen Hunt character would have a romantic interest for the Jack Nicholson character). What did me in for good was how, behind all the façade of artsy types, it was all about: "women are nurturers who give everything up for others; men are selfish pigs who take everything." I am not sure we needed the travesty of an obsessive-compulsive writer to tell us that.