Monday, February 7, 2011

Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting didn't really work for me until Robin Williams was introduced. The opening scenes have an almost amateur vibe to them, hinting at talent from the performers and the production crew but not working quite right. Too much of that stuff has been parodied and referenced endlessly, and some scenes just flat out look terrible, like the ill-advised slow motion fight scene. It just feels like it's of a time and that I missed the boat on enjoying it while it was fresh.

But then Williams comes along and suddenly the whole movie gets a lot better. His performance is totally outstanding, and that's part of it. But everything else seems better too, like a switch has been turned on. It seemed like the script by stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck was trying too hard at first to establish their story about Will Hunting, the genius from a broken home who could do anything if he got over his personal troubles. But after the fight, Will's only way to avoid jail time is to do math work at MIT where he was a janitor and see a therapist. Williams is the one who sticks, and from there they develop an interesting rapport at the same time that Will gets involved with a Harvard student played by Minnie Driver. The two storylines work well in tandem, as Williams tries to help Damon push through his barriers at the same time that he's attempting to do the same on his own.

The super-genius stuff almost feels tacked-on actually. It provides a reason for why Will's crippling personal issues are particularly devastating, not just to him but to the good he could do for the world, and also a couple opportunities for memorable, intricate monologues. But I didn't find it as compelling as the therapy or relationship stuff, or even just the scenes where he's hanging out with his regular Joe friends. Apparently the script started out as a thriller about the government trying to recruit a genius before it turned into what it is in the movie, so that part is actually the original seed of the whole thing. Still, it's not why I liked the movie. Williams deserved his Oscar, Damon is generally good as well, and while I had issues with some of what Gus Van Sant did, it's not a bad effort. I definitely liked it more than I thought I would after the first twenty or so minutes.

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