Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Good Will Hunting (1997)

By Eric Jessen 9/1/09

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck deserve a pat on the back for their warm hearted script. Damon, Affleck, Robin Williams, Stellan Skarsgard and the entire cast give a great effort on this nice-try, well intentioned project. But in Gus Van Sant's bleached, TV-lighting and with all around bad timing, the performances, Affleck and Damon's “Southie” talk and the overwrought therapy-blubbering seem forced. And Good Will Hunting plays like nothing more than soft melodrama with good cliché sense.
From the start it's hard to tell the aim of Good Will Hunting. We follow Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a closet genius wearing a janitor's outfit. He has a photographic memory. He knows everything about everything: history, physics, chemistry, art and especially math. Will can scribble down the answer to a problem that has puzzled mathematicians for years on a napkin over lunch. But he chooses to conceal his intelligence. (Although we're allowed an obligatory scene where “wicked smaaht” Will shows-up a Harvard "prick".) He prefers the romanticism of good honest construction work, drinking beer and smoking at the local pup with his buddies over the snobbishness of a well-paid job and a Nobel Prize.
Good Will Hunting seemed to be shaping into a study of unrealized potential. Will's best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) tells him, “I'd do anything to have what you got....You're sitting on a winning lottery ticket and you're too much of a pussy to cash it in.” But midway through it starts to look more like a Freudian mess. We delve into Will's psyche, his childhood of abuse, his orphanage, his fear of commitment and vulnerability and abandonment etc. He sits across from his therapist Sean (Robin Williams), at first he doesn't speak, he twiddles his thumbs and watches the clock as the hour required by his P. O. ticks away. But then, Will and Sean become best friends, they share stories about famous Red Sox games. And eventually they share tears: Sean over his wife who died of cancer and Will over his past.
Good Will Hunting comes to a predictable end but we remember the little cliché moments and the various actors' energy: in particular Chuckie's four-letter “Southie” jive spoken with a comfort level and an understanding of the immature, adolescent bravado by Ben Affleck. And you'll never forget the famous but unbearably corny scene where Sean tells Will over and over, “It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault.” He says that three more times before Will starts weeping uncontrollably.
By the end Good Will Hunting had shaped into a sloppy melodrama. Ben and Matt and Gus Van Sant cashed in a big box-office success. Good for them. And thankfully, Good Will Hunting at least catapulted Matt and Gus Van Sant into making much better movies.

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