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Good Will Hunting (1997)

May 4, 2010

8/10 Bad Apples

Not too shabby for a first go at screenwriting.

Good Will Hunting is about a 20-year-old orphan from the rough end of Boston with a big brain and an even bigger rap sheet who gets the book thrown at him after punching a cop (smooth) and is given an ultimatum by a math professor at MIT where the kid works as a janitor: go to jail or work on math problems and go see a shrink. Surprise, surprise, the kid picks option B but fights the psychiatry gig tooth and nail until he’s introduced to the professor’s old college roommate who refuses to give up on him no matter how much the kid pushes his most sensitive of buttons.

This is one of those movies that I thought was out of sight the first time I saw it way back when, but that was also before I really started listening to movies instead of just marveling at the whole “How do you like them apples?” scene and declaring it as being most awesome from that point forward. Didn’t take much to throw me for a loop back then, but after recently revisiting this one the other day, it’s still pretty darn good even if certain aspects haven’t aged as well as others.

Now, here’s the thing with Ben & Matt’s script: it’s well-written, it’s got a solid premise and it has a ton of great character development, but for every choice one-liner or subtle insight, there’s always a long, drawn-out, unrealistic monologue from one of the characters waiting right around the corner. For instance, Will getting into a textbook-reciting battle of wits at the Hahvahd bar, the shrink at the park going over every single real-life example of how Will doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, Will reciting the Constitution verbatim to the prosecution while defending himself in court, yada, yada, yada.

Not to say that these parts aren’t good, but it just gets to be grating after a while. I’m of the mindset that less is more when it comes to dialogue and that you can usually say things far more effectively in a few choice or without saying anything at all. It eventually gets to the point where I was waiting for someone to pull out the Wrap It Up Box and move onto the next scene about whether certain individuals do or do not like apples. If it were shorter and sweeter, it could have been a 9, but verbal diarrhea and all, these two crazy kids still put together one swell story for the cast to work with.

It’s also another glaring reason why Robin Williams should stick to serious roles, as if the whole Oscar win wasn’t a tip-off to being with. He’s the clear dramatic heavyweight here as Will’s shrink, Sean Maguire, and he totally drives it home as usual. And Matt Damon with his quasi-mushroom cut is alright as Will, but like I said, too much ranting and raving. Stellan Skarsgard ain’t bad either as Will’s math professor at MIT and the same goes for Ben Affleck as Will’s best friend, Chuckie. Ben seriously needs to take more roles like these, the dude can be pretty cool when he’s just being himself.

Unfortunately, listening to Minnie Driver and her evil male clown laugh is like nails on a chalkboard and it doesn’t do any favors for her already irritating performance. Seriously, I would run for the effing hills if my girlfriend started laughing like that. Yikes.

But this movie does feature a stellar soundtrack riddled with Elliott Smith tunes that perfectly complement Gus Van Sant’s directing style along with all the visuals of Boston in leaf season. I’m a huge Smith fan to begin with, but either way, this serves as a great introduction if you’ve never heard him before.

Freakin’ Celine Dion stealing Elliott’s Oscar. I’ll take “Miss Misery” over that lovey dovey shit any day.

So Good Will Hunting could have used some toning down here and there, but the one thing I keep coming back to when I think about why I like this movie is that the characters really are incredibly fleshed out and watching them gradually unravel as they play off each other’s insecurities makes for some great viewing over the course of two hours. Might have been better the first time around, but whatever, it’s still a mighty good debut that’s topped off with a great supporting performance and a mighty good ending to boot.

And any movie that gives me a chance to post the best clip from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is a-okay in my book.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. May 4, 2010 3:06 am

    Haven’t actually seen Good Will Hunting in one sitting. It seems to be on TV all the time, so I watch half an hour here and there. It’s probably high time that I just bought the DVD!

    • May 4, 2010 10:37 am

      Yeah, that’s actually how I saw it again. Happened to catch it right at the start on TBS this past weekend and got myself invested. Definitely censors a ton of the swearing and such, so it’s probably worth watching the DVD instead, but still good stuff.

      • May 4, 2010 8:29 pm

        I watched it on TBS this weekend too! I forgot how much I love this movie … just good filmmaking that does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

        “Good Will Hunting” is one of those movies I think I could watch in any mood – and that’s pretty rare.

  2. May 4, 2010 7:13 am

    Still need to give this one a look. It’s been sitting in my shelf for quite some time now, but nice review!

  3. May 4, 2010 9:49 am

    Haven’t seen this since it came out. Been avoiding it because I don’t think it will live up to how good I remember it being. Like you said, Robin Williams was so good in this.

    • May 4, 2010 10:38 am

      Yeah, he was the bomb. I’ve been thinking a lot about that scene where he grabs will by the throat and calls him “Chief” for the first time like a total badass. He’s got a ton of good scenes in this one, def worth a second watch.

  4. May 4, 2010 12:47 pm

    youre just no longer that good…. Will Hunting
    hehe, Jay and Silent Bob is hit and miss but that bit is good… will hunting
    the original film is actually pretty good too, its rawness makes it good

  5. May 4, 2010 4:59 pm

    Hey Aiden,
    I’m hosting the My Best Post blog-a-thon.
    It goes from May 21st-23rd. Want to be a part of it?
    It’s pretty easy. You’ve already written your entry.
    Just send me a link to your best/favorite/underrated blog post! Thanks!

  6. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    May 6, 2010 9:31 am

    There’s no point in watching this on cable — with all the language that gets bleeped out, it’s like watching a silent movie. Only it’s worse because it’s a semi-silent movie and half the jokes and cutdowns are gone.

    Like you said, a great (not perfect, but great) first effort. I loved Robin Williams in this. I miss movies of his where he doesn’t go ass-over-teacups trying to make us laugh. He’s so much funnier when he doesn’t (though I admit I like “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Good Morning, Vietnam”).

  7. May 6, 2010 12:52 pm

    This is one of the few films that make me cry every viewing. But it gets me every time. Everything just magically came together and repeat viewings still feel fresh and new. The soundtrack alone will haunt you.

    One of my ultimate favs here Aiden. Good call………and hey Minnie Driver is personally annoying, but she was good for this role, even with an “It” type laugh.

    • May 6, 2010 1:47 pm

      The “It’s not your fault” scene had me choking up, so did the ending. Time to boot up some Elliott Smith.

  8. May 8, 2010 1:41 am

    I am in love with this movie. That scene in the end when Affleck checked the house and Damon was no longer there gets me all choked up. I think you’re spot-on in terms of how character-driven it was.

  9. May 11, 2010 3:14 pm

    Just watched this one for the first time recently. It was good but I wasn’t blown away by it.

    But yea, the apples scene was pretty awesome.

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