Reel Estate

Reel Estate: Giant West Village lofts are "As Good As It Gets"?

By Virginia K. Smith  | October 10, 2014 - 9:59AM

When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. (Anyone who's ever lived in this place will tell you it's a character, alright.) In Reel Estate, we look at some of the more memorable domiciles to grace the screen.

Just about everyone in New York has had a nightmare neighbor, but few of them (we hope) come close to Melvin Udall, Jack Nicholson's racist, homophobic, obsessive-compulsive character in 1997's "As Good As It Gets." A shut-in novelist, Melvin lives across the hall from an artist named Simon (Greg Kinnear), and his dog Verdell, whom Melvin dumps down the building's trash chute at the beginning of the movie. Their individual apartments? Improbably huge prewar apartments in the West Village; Simon's even opens up onto a private terrace:


The building used as the exteriors for the film was 31-33 West 12th Street, a West Village co-op that doesn't seem to have much in the way of one-bedrooms, but where a three-bedroom apartment recently sold for $3.9 million. While it seems a little implausible that an up-and-coming visual artist would live in the same building as—and actually, in a nicer apartment than—a wildly successful mass market novelist, the film gets a pass because this was the '90s.

The actual apartments for both characters were sets, according to FilmScouts, and the movie's set designer Bill Brzeski has explained that it was, "a movie about two completely different people living in the same space. We tried to create two apartments that were different enough, but which felt like they could be in the same world. The look of both apartments was dictated by the character. Simon was a cutting-edge, New York kind of guy. " 

Simon's airy apartment is filled with his own colorful artwork and "retro-industrial" pieces, while Melvin's cave-like bachelor pad across the hall "is a very monochromatic, muted set," Brzeski says. See below:

As in real life, they avoid each other as best they can. But as sometimes happens in real life, especially in this city, living in such close quarters bring neighbors together. After Simon is brutally attacked in his apartment, Melvin is pressured into looking after his dog. At the same time, his routine is interrupted when his favorite waitress Carol (Helen Hunt) leaves her job to take care of her sick son. (The movie's as much a fable about crippling medical bills as it is about real estate, but that's a post for a different day, and for a different publication.)

In a bid to get his obsessive routine back, Melvin pays out of pocket to send a doctor to visit Carol, who's been forced by the cost of her son's healthcare to live with her mother in Brooklyn:

Apparently the fact that Helen and her family live in a reasonably spacious and well-lit three-bedroom near Prospect Park is supposed to signal the fact that they're strapped for cash. (Again, it was the '90s.) Both the doctor and his nurse get lost on the way to Brooklyn (because apparently, back then, Brooklyn was shorthand for middle of nowhere).

The exteriors for Carol's building were shot at 1 Windsor Place, right on the border of Windsor Terrace and South Slope, and when Carol and her mother head out for a night on the town, they go to Windsor Terrace staple Farrell's.

Eventually—and after Melvin, Simon, and Carol take a road trip to visit Simon's parents and ask for money for his medical bills—a newly-enlightened Melvin moves Simon and Verdell into his huge guest bedroom, Simon convinces Melvin to make a move on Carol, and, we presume everyone lives happily enough ever after in that spacious West Village apartment (we're willing to bet that Melvin insisted Carol move into his place, rather than decamp for Brooklyn).


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Windsor Terrace is the poor man's Park Slope (in a good way)

Reel Estate: How to Marry a Millionaire? Shack up in an $8,000 a month apartment

Reel Estate: Keeping Up With Khloe Kardashian's rental budget

Reel Estate: Friends With Kids and its envy-inducing apartments

Reel Estate: The Upper East Side (and Urban Haute Bourgeoisie) apartments of Whit Stillman's Metropolitan

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