At the time of the 1998 Oscars, I had seen four out of five
Best Picture nominees. The only one I hadn't seen was GOOD WILL
HUNTING, and it took another three months to remedy that. I don't know
why I had the motivation to go see theatrical movies like WILD THINGS
and GODZILLA while neglecting this movie, but now that I finally have
seen GOOD WILL HUNTING, my question is, why all the hoopla? It's a
good movie, yeah, but not really Oscar quality.
My personal theory is that the Hollywood community didn't
expect much out of a movie written by pretty-boy actors like Matt
Damon and Ben Affleck, and the fact that GOOD WILL HUNTING actually
was good bowled the Oscar folks over. Otherwise, it's a routine
Prodigy Rebel Who Doesn't Want To Get Close To Anyone Or Do
Much With His Life drama that comes complete with a cross-tracks,
cross-continental romance that begins, ends and resumes on schedule
and an eccentric father-figure who is the only person who can break
through to the Prodigy Rebel.
Damon is the genius in question, a 20-year-old janitor at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That must be impressive when
he comes across someone who mops floors at a state university. ("Oh
yeah? I'm an Ivy League janitor!") Even more impressive is the fact
that he solves a medal-winning professor's proof that is posted in a
hallway. He's a very smart boy, you see, but he hangs out with slackers
like Affleck who spend most of their time drinking and getting into
It's after one such fight that Damon heads off to prison, where
they love guys with butts as nice as his. The judge is unimpressed with
his citing of legal precedents from the 1700s and only releases him
when the MIT professor intercedes. In addition to helping him with
difficult mathematical formulas, Damon has to see a therapist every
week. A few amusing scenes ensue as Damon manages to drive away a
series of therapists.
We know from seeing Oscar-boy Robin Williams' name in the
credits that he's going to be the one that ends up helping the kid Love
Life. The Williams character is dangerously close to the DEAD POETS
SOCIETY mold but is a complicated and well-written one. If there's any
one good thing about GOOD WILL HUNTING, it's that all the characters
know what each other's problems are and can have the kind of
articulated arguments that only come across in movies.
Still, it's a copout that the only thing holding Damon's
character back is that he was beaten as a child. His diatribe about
having cigarettes put out on his body made me wonder just how many
movie characters have been used as ashtrays. It's a pretty convenient
dramatic device that dates back, at least, to John Hughes and THE
BREAKFAST CLUB. And even more of a copout that all it takes to solve
Damon's problems is for Williams to keep saying, "It's not your fault"
over and over again.
I can complain all I want but the truth is Damon and
Williams both did terrific work in this movie. Affleck, on the other
hand, isn't around much and, when he is, he more or less plays the
same addled but charming character he always has. You know, the
kind that inevitably says, "I ain't the smartest guy on the block, but I
do know this..." And Minnie Driver, she's charming, but why the hell
was she nominated for this movie? As the Harvard pre-law love
interest, her British ass is around for maybe 20 minutes total. I think
she did better in GROSSE POINT BLANK.
Good work for a couple of kids, but it's no TITANIC.
Copyright © 1997 Andrew Hicks