What’s the Story: Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a 20-year-old working as a janitor at M.I.T. despite being a self-taught genius. After assaulting a police officer that could land him in jail, Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) decides to help after realizing he’s the one who solved two complicated mathematic problems on his board. To make it work, Will must be under the guidance of Lambeau in discovering his potential and is ordered to a weekly therapy session with Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams), which might help with what to do with his future.
Good Will Hunting came out in 1997, and it has always been one of those films I’ve always heard about but took time to finally seek it out. The first time I watched it was back in 2014 when I was back on my kick of watching older flicks I had yet seen, and my mind told me to watch it. That first viewing was amazing, which wasn’t much of a shocker, but years after watching it, I never knew how it takes a drama like this to be inspirational.
Just from watching this, it would be easy to assume the screenplay was done by some prestigious writer, but it was, in fact, written by Damon and Ben Affleck themselves. It’s not uncommon for actors to take on screenwriting, but also acting in it must’ve been challenging at the age they were when filming. These two were already buddies and it all started when Damon wrote it while taking a playwriting class at Harvard and then asked Affleck to touch it up after finishing it three years before the release. If there’s one thing about the story that’s pretty obvious is how predictable it plays out. But does it ruin the experience? It doesn’t. Just from the dialogue mixed with the genuinely funny moments and when it needs to have a scene be serious, it’s a respectable piece of work, even they couldn’t believe made it a reality in having the viewer understand the humor mind personally.
I have seen Matt Damon in lots of great roles ever since I’ve known him as a kid, but no performance is more complex and awe-inspiring than the title character here. Anybody can identify themselves as Will for good or bad and I have to give what he pulled off being smart and understanding of where he’s coming from. Will is a character you want to know so much about and lick inside his brain. It was this role that not only made a big name in Hollywood but one that should’ve won him the Best Actor Oscar.
But besides him, there’s no way in talking about Good Will Hunting without my absolute favorite performance from the legend Robin Williams as Sean Maguire. This wasn’t his first time stepping into a serious role as we’ve seen the range he showed with Dead Poet Society or Awakenings, but it’s a role easy to not see him as an actual character. Because of that, you want to engage in everyday conversations with him as a therapist. The first scene he shares with Damon shows he won’t be messing with his BS, especially when he mentions his deceased wife, and it’s his goal to help Will with this internal struggle he’s dealing with, not giving up on him when it gets tough sometimes.
What started on the wrong foot turns into a father-son bonding experience for both of them. The scenes with the two of them are excellent whenever I think of them since you’re wondering if any progress is happening. Probably the best scene everybody talks about is even when they’re sitting on the park bench with Sean talking to Will through this monologue about how life should be explored, not just through books and how he has no clue what he’s talking about. The way the camera stays on Williams without Damon speaking is brilliant that shuts him down when he knows the truth slapped him hard. But not just that, but it’s always not funny when Sean tells him the story about the time his wife used to fart in her sleep (improved, by the way) that never gets old, especially knowing full well Damon was almost in tears from laughter.
As for everybody else, this was also around the time Ben Affleck was becoming a well-known actor with his performance as Will’s best friend, Chuckie Sullivan. And since they’re friends in real life, it isn’t difficult loving their friendship when one even realizes what the other is longing for in any much-needed moment of levity. Some might not like Minnie Driver’s performance as Skylar, Will’s love interest who attends Harvard, but there is some believable chemistry between her and Damon where she’s smart enough to be in his level. And the reason why everybody is phenomenal is that they know how to play their parts in being these layered characters.
Gus Van Sant wouldn’t be the first director to take on the story when he’s known for indies such as My Own Private Idaho and Drugstore Cowboy. To his advantage, this is the most memorable film in his filmography for good reason. His vision compliments what other considered directors possibly couldn’t get attached to not changing too much of what was on the page in providing these pivotal thoughts of friendship, dreams, and abandonment to, hopefully, captivate those watching it into those repeat viewings.
But why a film like Good Will Hunting can hold an attachment to anyone is how the key factor for Will himself is easy to understand. We have a protagonist who’s clearly have the brains to do anything important in life, but we see him in these two worlds: One where’s he’s hanging out with his buddies and the other where dozens of possibilities are outside waiting for him. Potential doesn’t seem to be right in front of him, and any of us would kill to get these opportunities with how smart he is. He’s someone who holds himself back with those defense mechanisms and doesn’t want things to change; that fear of abandonment that’s on his mind.
In life, there will be a point where it is hard not knowing what the next step in life will give us. Honest truth, it’s always a thought process with me constantly, especially during my junior year of college when it felt like nothing was going right, leaving me unsure of how I will turn out in wasting my life. Some days, even now, I tell myself I’m never good enough for anything or anybody, whether it’s an issue with my consciousness on weight, feeling like I won’t find someone who’ll love me, or not letting my passion be ignored. Now, I still feel as if why I matter anymore. But it’s films like Good Will Hunting I realize made an emotional impact on me after re-watching it because everybody can see themselves in Will in hopes of finding their path in life, and hope to forget these past problems.
We’re in a world where nobody’s perfect. We know Will isn’t perfect, but we know the reason for that. There are so many iconic moments from “How do you like them apples” to the bench scene, but no moment hits hard than the moment where Sean repeatedly says to Will, “It’s not your fault” after realizing the past trams he has gone through until Will’s wall is broken down. It’s not a moment not pleased for laughs; it managed to be mature and honest in one of the greatest films ever shot.
After more than 20 years later, this is still a film universally loves, which obviously sees as the seventh highest-grossing movie of 1997 and won two Oscars. Williams for Best Supporting Actor and Affleck and Damon for Best Original Screenplay. It also earned seven additional nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Van Sant), Actor (Damon), Supporting Actress (Driver), Editing, Original Dramatic Score (Danny Elfman), and “Miss Misery by the late Elliot Smith for Original Song.
Final Thoughts: Good Will Hunting hinges on being predictable, but it doesn’t take away from how it manages to be an achievement of becoming an inspiring and moving drama. Thanks to Van Sant’s direction, incredible script, and all the performances from everybody, particularly from Damon and Williams.