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Why It Works: Good Will Hunting

07.22.2016

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.

****SPOILERS AHEAD****

You know his name; it's Matt Damon. With JASON BOURNE hitting theaters next Friday, the actor is celebrating over twenty years as a major player in the industry. After notable supporting roles in SCHOOL TIES and COURAGE UNDER FIRE, it was back-to-back lead roles in THE RAINMAKER and GOOD WILL HUNTING that elevated the actor to star status. The latter, which Damon co-wrote with co-star Ben Affleck, earned the pair an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, a Best Supporting Actor award for Robin Williams, and seven other Oscar nominations. Featuring a smug bastard of a main character, little in the way of traditional plot, and some wicked questionable Boston accents, GOOD WILL HUNTING would go on to become one of the most memorable and beloved films of the late 90's. Here's why it works:

WHY WE LIKE THE CHARACTERS:

Will Hunting isn't exactly the most sympathetic of characters. We don't see him do anything likable or noble until he saves Chuckie from Clark, the pompous barney, and even then, he's showing off as much if not more so than protecting his friend. What we do see is a fascinating character who, despite having a brilliant mind, spends his time working odd jobs, drinking with his friends, and working on a wrap sheet as staggering as his intellect. Moreover, his need to work on the MIT chalk board problems clues us into the fact that Will wants more from life, no matter how content he may seem. We eventually see a softer side of Will once he meets Skylar and Sean starts getting through to him, but until then, he's captivating to watch (especially when he's outsmarting and generally pissing off the finest psychologists in town). Will eventually meets his match in Sean Maguire, a brilliant therapist from Southie. Rather than being a wise, stoic figure, though, Sean is just as multifaceted as Will, taking comfort in his work and what he knows as an escape from moving on from the death of his wife. Rounding out the cast are the lovely and tolerant Skylar, the lecherous but good-hearted professor Gerald Lambeau, and Will's simple but fiercely loyal friends, Billy, Morgan, and Chuckie "retaaaainer" Sullivan.

Things really get serious in the sequel.

WHY WE CARE:

Once Will solves Lambeau's linear algebra problems and is arrested for fighting, GOOD WILL HUNTING presents a premise wherein Will must work with Lambeau and meet with a therapist or be sent back to prison- but we don't really care about any of that. We don't watch the film thinking, "boy, I hope Will finds the right therapist and cleans up his act!" Instead, it's Will's relationships and the slow demolition of his emotional walls that keep us intrigued. Even as Will falls for Skylar and begins to respect Sean, he keeps them at arms length and jeopardizes both relationships as a result, as well as berating Lambeau and sabotaging his attempts to find Will a job suitable to his talents. Perhaps the most unlikely challenger of them all, Chuckie tells Will, "look, you're my best friend, so don't take this the wrong way, but in 20 years, if you're still livin' here, comin' over to my house, watchin' the Patriots games, workin' construction, I'll f*ckin' kill ya. That's not a threat, that's a fact, I'll f*ckin' kill ya." Even Chuckie, who sees no real future for himself, knows Will should be using his gifts to make something of himself, rather than staying in the safety of his comfort zone.

Dear Hollywood, more Minnie Driver, please. Love, Brian.

WHY WE'RE SATISFIED:

This is where we find ourselves in more familiar territory as far as traditional filmmaking goes. In the film's climactic, most cathartic moment, Sean assures Will that his violent childhood is not his fault repeatedly until Will breaks down and embraces his friend and mentor. Having finally reached a point of clarity, Will takes off to California after Skylar in a car gifted by his devoted friends, leaving Chuckie relived as he realizes why he disappeared. With the note he leaves Sean, Will lets him know he understands the point he made earlier about not letting opportunities pass us by, whether they be for love or anything else. We also take heart in knowing Sean has also been affected by his time with Will, deciding to take a sabbatical to do some traveling and generally moving on with his life. As for the job Will finally accepts and subsequently abandons for sunnier skies, we're not sure exactly where our hero will end up in the world of complex mathematics, but we have little doubt he's on the right path as he drives off into the New England mist.

I imagine hugging Robin Williams to be among the greatest feelings known to humankind.

WHY WE REMEMBER:

For a script so dependent on dialogue and character development, GOOD WILL HUNTING falls flat without a strong creative team. Fortunately, Gus Van Sant and cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier deliver a stunning film which bears the natural feel of a film from the 1970's, as do Elliott Smith's Simon and Garfunkel-esque songs and Danny Elfman's soft, reedy score. The greens and browns of the costuming and production design give the film a unique, autumnal feel worthy of a New England aesthetic. In addition to boasting a well-crafted story, Damon and Affleck's dialogue is entertaining and memorable (tell me you haven't dropped the occasional "how do you like them apples?"). The cast of Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgård, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, and Cole Hauser is impeccable, with Damon and Driver receiving Oscar nominations in addition to Williams' win (the relatively recent loss of whom makes the film's climax that much more heartbreaking today). Finally, while it may not be the most original or notable aspect of the film, GOOD WILL HUNTING sends a poignant message about not letting fear or past experiences get in the way of celebrating and making the most of our abilites, so hop into your shitty car, head west, and go see about a girl. Your move, chief.

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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