Good Will Hunting (1997)

good will hunting IMDb

This is the film that announced Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as movie stars. I’ve always been intrigued by these two and the way their careers progressed after this film was so popular. Affleck used it as a springboard to more popcorn action flicks or romantic comedies. Their quality was sometimes debatable, but he was still very popular for quite some time, before eventually finding his niche behind the camera in great films like The Town and Argo. Damon, on the other hand, has resisted the more popular films and stuck to more dramatic fare where he will likely be Oscar nominated. The only time Damon has really come close to something popular was the Bourne series or a small role in his Good Will Hunting follow up, Saving Private Ryan. For two guys that have been best friends for years, their careers have ended up being very different.

Good Will Hunting is the story of Will Hunting (Damon). Will is a troubled youth with a photographic memory who spends most nights getting drunk with childhood friend Chuckie (Affleck). He has taught himself complicated maths equations and impresses Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a local professor at MIT, when he solves maths problems designed for his advanced students. After a run in with the law, Lambeau organises for Will to avoid jail time if he will study at MIT under the tutelage of Lambeau. The other requirement is that Will must see a psychiatrist. After Will plays up with the first few shrinks that he sees, Lambeau takes him to see his old college roommate, Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Sean is from Will’s neighbourhood and Gerald hopes the two will be able to connect through that. Will and Sean have their moments, but the two eventually respect each other, and Will begins to open up to Sean, something he’s not done with anyone before. Sean helps Will to deal with everyone’s expectations that he is a genius and destined for greater things, and also walk him through a budding relationship with a Harvard medical student (Minnie Driver).

It is the performance of Damon and Affleck that make this film something special. The two are playing best friends and their off screen friendship shines through here. It’s easy to see these two have been friends for a long time. Their easy rapport with one another is one of the film’s highlights for me. The performance from Robin Williams is also great. He is mostly known for his outrageous comedic ability, but films like this one and Dead Poets Society show what he can do if he has to tone it down. Williams won an Oscar for his role in Good Will Hunting, as did Damon and Affleck for their screenplay. Both were well deserved, Good Will Hunting is one of the best films of the nineties, with top quality performances from the whole cast. It started Affleck and Damon on the road to superstardom, but this early effort is still one of their best performances.

Rating: A-

I know I watched this movie when it was released on video, but literally the only memory I had of it was Minnie Driver delivering a blow job joke. Watching it now I can understand why it didn’t make much of an impact on me as a young teenager. Good Will Hunting is very character driven– lots of talking, lots of introspection. To tell the truth, I’m not always that into these types of movies even now, but I can definitely appreciate them. Even ones set in Boston.

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a self-taught genius working as a janitor at MIT. When he solves a difficult math problem left on a department blackboard Will catches the attention of Professor Gerard Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), who wants to nurture Hunting’s innate talents and bring him into the world of academia. Problem is, Will would rather hang out with his buddies (Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, and Cole Hauser), constantly getting into trouble and landing himself in jail.

I think 14-year-old me didn’t connect with the movie because I could not understand why anyone would want to mess around and work construction rather than go to college. Here was a kid being handed a free education and a better life, but he’d rather dick around with his Southie friends in bars for the rest of his life. Uh… what’s up Will? It takes you weeks to decide that you want to leave Massachusetts, have a relationship with Minnie Driver, and maybe get a job that utilizes your talents. It just seems like this is a decision that should have taken you all of two hours to make.

I’ve changed a lot since 1997. For one, I understand that college isn’t for everyone. I was a kid on track for college, and it was a great experience for me. However, I met many people who were in college because it was what was expected of them, and they should not have been there. Maybe Will knows that academia isn’t really for him, and doesn’t want to waste his time doing something that will make him unhappy. If so, more power to him.

Even with my newfound appreciation for this story I’m still not that into the movie. Matt Damon and Robin Williams have terrific chemistry, and Affleck is OK. This is obvious Oscar bait that totally worked, but other than Williams’ performance I’m not entirely sure all the accolades are warranted. The story is quite predictable, but I suppose the moments between Damon and Williams are what sets this apart from similar coming of age tales. Still, that’s not really enough to grab me. Maybe it will in another 17 years.

Rating: B-

One thought on “Good Will Hunting (1997)

  1. Pingback: Hook (1991) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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