I should not like Good Will Hunting.
Let’s take a look at my top 3 least favourite types of films:
3) Pretty much every “scary” movie ever made.
2) Adam Sandler comedies.
1) Self-important, back slapping, awards winning films. Oscar bait, if you prefer.
In theory, Good Will Hunting should very firmly come under that “number one” bracket. The synopsis – a janitor from the wrong side of the tracks is found out to be a maths genius and goes through therapy – sounds like the exact thing I would normally scoff at. I would potentially watch the trailer just to have it confirmed to me that it is, indeed, an Oscar-bait movie, and then never watch it again. Unless I was dragged to watch it at the cinema by my girlfriend. Which I almost certainly would be.
Hell, even the title screams award-bait. “DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE TITLE? GOODWILL? HE’S HUNTING FOR GOODWILL! BUT HIS NAME IS WILL HUNTING. GET IT? PLEASE SEND THE OSCAR TO MY MANSION.”
But there’s something about this film that somehow makes it different from the types of films it should be connected to.
Firstly, the people involved clearly care about what they are making. There is the famous story of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck throwing in a gay sex scene to check which bigwigs were actually reading the script, but it goes deeper than that (no pun intended). You feel like the people involved made the film because they wanted to. Not to make stars of the actors, not to win awards. They just wanted to make the film, because they liked it. That’s a vital difference.
Take The Theory of Everything as an example of the alternative. Here is a film that was critically and commercially very successful, but was so clearly made because the story is “important”. Almost zero effort went in to saying or doing anything in that film, aside from combing Eddie Redmayne’s hair forward, because, “hey, you already know who Steven Hawking is, right? He’s an important guy. Get with the programme”. Yes, I know who Steven Hawking is, but the film shouldn’t assume that. Likewise, the film shouldn’t exist just because you think there should be a film about Steven Hawking. Tell me a story, or f*ck off.
Wow, I got really angry about Theory Of Everything there. Again.
Hey, did you guys see that “Theory of Everything” film? I hear it was GREAT.
Good Will Hunting doesn’t have this issue, and it’s what sets it apart from your standard, patronising, awards-y nonsense. It has a story, it has characters, and it wants to tell you those things in an interesting, entertaining way. It says a lot about the types of films that win awards when that is how I tell if a film is awards-bait or not.
One of the key ways you can tell this film is more than that is in the quality of the writing. It’s a pretty formula movie in a lot of ways. But it diverges enough from it, plays with it enough, and works with it in interesting ways so it doesn’t matter. Formula is there for a reason: it works. Working to one is no bad thing, but it has to be interesting. Good Will Hunting is essentially a textbook in how to make a formula work.
If you want an example of the formula, take the relationship between Sean and Will. In screenwriting, you have a protagonist and you have a mirror to place up against them. This is often a person who reflects back their qualities and forces them to engage with who they are, which the protagonist will have been avoiding.
The formula dictates that initially the mirror and the protagonist don’t get along, but eventually the protagonist grows to listen to them, befriend them and learn, whilst at the same time teaching the mirror a few things about themselves as well. This happens in an abundance in Good Will Hunting, but is done so well it doesn’t matter that this follows The Formula.
So what is it that makes it so well done? Without wanting to oversimplify it, there’s an easy answer. Robin Williams.
Williams is an interesting case in that I have rarely been bothered by his comedic work, but his dramatic work is spectacular. And for me, his finest work comes in this film.
To portray a character this gentle, but this raw, is hugely challenging. But Williams is an absolute delight throughout the film, and is played with such incredible warmth. It’s like watching your favourite uncle or grandfather on screen; I just want to hug him. When I think about Robin Williams in real life, I picture him as Sean from Good Will Hunting, and from what I’ve read, that isn’t far from the truth. It’s what made his suicide so devastating. It’s why this was the first film I wanted to watch when I heard about it. And now I want to cry.
To be honest, I could keep going on about this. There are hundreds of reasons for why this is a great film. But when you boil it down, it’s simply a well written, well acted piece with a cracking soundtrack (Elliot Smith was the man) that was made by people who liked the story and wanted to make it, and featuring one of my all-time favourite performances. That’s what sets this apart from the likes of Theory of Everything.
Which, again, was absolute toss.
Good Will Hunting Rating: I really like dem apples.
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