In the center of Good Will Hunting is a lead character put in the middle of several opposing opportunities. It’s for this reason that its seemingly unrelatable protagonist will be able to stand in for much of the audience. You can relate to Will not because of who he is, but rather because of the forces around him. We can understand being torn between aimlessness and potential, or loyalty to others and the progression of self, and as a result we grasp exactly what Will goes through.
The film stars Matt Damon as the aforementioned Will Hunting, a genius but deeply troubled 20-year-old kid from South Boston who works as a janitor by day and spends nights drinking with his buddies. In his spare time, he reads. He reads everything and does so very fast. This is a person who has an eidetic memory and the brain power to process and understand everything he sees. If he didn’t have anger issues and the inability to afford it, he’d be at the top of his class at whatever university he chose. He’s someone of unlimited potential, but has little desire to do anything other than slum it out with his Southie friends.
He’s discovered by one of the professors at the college, Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård), who wants to work with the young man. He gets Will out of jail by entering an agreement in which Will works with the professor each week, and also attends two counselling sessions in an attempt to get his behavioral issues under control, and perhaps give some ambition to a life completely devoid of just that.
After a montage of failed sessions with different psychiatrists — therapy doesn’t often work when the smartest person in the room is the one who needs “fixing” — Lambeau introduces Will to an old colleague, Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Finally with someone who can at least try to match his book smarts with emotional intelligence, Dr. Maguire and Will begin sessions which begin to change Will’s whole life around. Or, at least, that’s the hope on the part of everyone but Will (he’s apathetic toward it all).
The film progresses joyfully and predictably from here. Maybe I’ve given away too much of the plot, but it ultimately shouldn’t matter, as you know where the film is going anyway. Good Will Hunting isn’t about the overall plot, anyway; it’s about the dichotomies tearing Will apart and about the individual moments in which these different viewpoints, temptations and choices are dangled in front of his eyes. It’s a clever, witty and relatively funny drama, and I cannot recommend it enough.
There’s a sweetness and genuine intelligence to the film. There’s also a lot going on. Each person in the movie is pulling Will in a different direction, which is a feeling a lot of people are going to be able to relate to. Each adult character eventually wants something different from him, his girlfriend, Skylar (Minnie Driver) isn’t even allowed to see his friends, because he fears they won’t understand, or perhaps that they’ll feel like he’s trading up. And at first glance it seems like his friends hope that he stays in Boston for life, which is in direct opposition to what everyone else wants. What’s a guy to do?
And then there are all of the psychological issues that Will has to overcome, in addition to learning “people smarts.” The screenplay doesn’t pander, either. It doesn’t take long to drop us into Will’s life, and it won’t even stop to let us get to know everyone. The buddies he hangs out with (Ben Affleck, Cole Hauser, Casey Affleck) don’t get an introduction, and we have to learn about their relations to Will via jokes and the dialogue, the latter of which winds up being one of the film’s highlights.
It’s the dialogue and the interactions between the characters which allows Good Will Hunting to feel sincere and honest. The screenplay was co-written by stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, both of whom were from the area, and their expertise made everything sound real. I’m sure some of the scenes in the movie were based on events that happened in real life. The script is intelligent and has a heart to it.
The acting is phenomenal. The screenplay was originally written by Damon and the older Affleck in an attempt to showcase themselves as actors. The goal holds true for Damon, who gets the leading role and several scene-stealing moments. Both Affleck brothers are far in the supporting category. Robin Williams makes for a heartfelt psychologist, and when he and Damon are going back and forth, or one is ranting at the other, the film is electric. Stellan Skarsgård is almost forgotten about in the final half, but he’s a safe choice to play a university professor.
Good Will Hunting is a fantastic film. It has a moving screenplay, an impressive leading performance, a sweetness to it that’s not too often seen, some good supporting work, and so many small moments which make the movie so much more than it could have been. The touches by its director, Gus Van Sant, transform what would have been a good but routine coming-of-age story into something great. I absolutely recommend Good Will Hunting. It’s one of the films you need to see.