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Monday, 26 December 2016

Retro Movie Review: Good Will Hunting (1997) #RobinWilliams

Good Will Hunting
Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $225 million 
Trivia: the film was shot in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusets and Toronto, Ontario

Plot: The most brilliant mind at America's top university isn't a student.... he's the kid that cleans floors! Will Hunting is a headstrong, working-class genius, who is failing the lessons of life. After one too many run-ins with the law, Will's last chance is a psychology professor, who might be the only man who can reach him. 

'Not Quite The Hollywood Epic, But Almost'

I've pretty much reviewed and rated almost every single major Robin Williams film, but for Good Will Hunting. I'd never really been interested in this film when I heard that Matt Damon was in it, and frankly, I'm neither a fan of him or his films, but for The Departed, which I enjoyed a lot. This is also the one Robin Williams film that I hadn't seen properly in full, before until recently, I thought I need to take a chance with this and see how it goes and to brace myself for what should be an interesting dramatic film, as well as the outstanding performance by Robin Williams that resulted in his first Oscar win. 

What I wasn't duly prepared for however was the incessant usage of foul language, mainly F-words in this film. Because, truthfully, it didn't need it; it was so out-of-place. This film can function without it, and plus in a lot of instances, it was just unnecessary. It was understandable that the film Erin Brockovich had F-words because as it was based on the real character, she acted and spoke like that, cursing and blinding. But here, this is not based on a true story, and not on the actual Will Hunting, who doesn't exist in real life. Good Will Hunting could have been PG-13 - minus 90% of the profanity & grievous fight scenes, and it would still be a very good film. That way, this would mean teenagers, young children, families could watch it and take inspiration from the character of Will Hunting and see him as a positive role-model. But alas, Gus Van Sant and the writers wanted to appeal to an older audience, and I think personally, that is and was a mistake. Good Will Hunting ought to have been PG-13. A film wants each character to have their own voice, but that doesn't mean they have to go effing and blinding for a sake of it. 

The title is contradictory: at first, it gives the impression that Will Hunting is a (supposedly) good character, a guy we should root for and he does exemplary things when in actuality, for all the smarts he has intellectually, knowledge-wise, insofar as his actual behaviour and character, he is not a wise or good person because he lacks common sense. The biggest plot hole with this character is the film's absence in shedding light on his childhood background. Sure enough, he had a tough and difficult upbringing and childhood, he is an orphan & came from a broken home, but we never see flashback moments that indicate his troubled past life. How did he become a genius overnight? What literately happened to him? What was he like as a child? What were his fondest memories growing up? Was he happy? Yet not once throughout the 2 hours do these questions get addressed. In fact, it seems like there are more questions than answers. 

In real-life, back when I was in high school and college, if I had to endure having someone like Will Hunting in my class, I'd probably tear my hair out (not literately though). 

I guess there are people like Will hunting out there in real life - bright, intelligent but who speak with a filthy mouth that would make a parent blush. What I don't get is why is someone as smart, articulate chooses to throw it all away and act like an egotistical douchebag, when he should know and act better? 

I get what this film is trying to say and the story it is trying to evoke: that for all the troubled so-called bad eggs in society, there is one person who is intelligent, smart but their upbringing, the environment in which they were raised in is a consequence of the personal demons s/he faces. I.e they are homeless, or in this case, immature, reckless, juvenile and on the other side of the law. Yet this film over-hypes and oversells itself that I begin to wonder exactly, what more does it really offer to not only sell it to me but that the viewing experience is one that I will fully cherish and take to heart? This is where Good Will Hunting, and some of the characterisations, more so than the performances fall slightly short for me. Robin Williams won that Oscar for his role, and as much as I enjoyed it, but for touching on the fact he is widower & being a nice guy, we or I don't learn anything else about him or know much more about who he is. Because to me, he is just some therapist/ counsellor type of guy. That's it. 

The character of Will Hunting is a dislikeable, at times arrogant, obnoxious jerk who is incredibly angsty, sulky and negative but things change when he meets Sean and Skylar. And yet, am I really led to believe then that after 2 or 3 therapy sessions, someone like him becomes a completely reformed person for the greater good? I don't think so. Speaking from experience, I've never been someone who is susceptible to frequent outbursts of anger, like Will Hunting, but I've had counselling sessions when I was in my early 20s, and even after 2, 3 sessions, I didn't feel everything was a-okay and I was always in the right, positive frame of mind. & so I continued seeking help until my mid-20s to early- 30s.  

There are also a few other things that I felt this film really went a bit over-the-top with. One of them in making Will Hunting a genius at every single subject. Why? They should have stuck with him being an intellect at maths. Therefore, this is a bit too much. The film doesn't stop to consider that for one minute his talents or abilities can make a huge and positive difference in the world and to people's lives. Instead, Will chooses to throw it all away by smoking, drinking, trying to get laid with the girls.

If it wasn't for Robin Williams being in this film, I wouldn't have had shown the slightest bit interest, at all. He was head and shoulders above everyone else and is the sole reason why it was so successful in the first place. I really enjoyed his performance, but even that alone didn't do enough to make me want to really love this film. When Sean grabbed Will's neck after Will made a crass comment about his deceased wife, I thought Will deserved it and that if anyone was going to talk some real sense to him, it was going to be Sean. People will say Robin's restrained performance as he plays it straight, drama-wise was a gimmick or attempt to land that best supporting Oscar, which he thoroughly deserved. If his performance as Sean is a gimmick, then so are his turns as Good Morning, Vietnam's Adrian Cronauer, Parry from The Fisher King, Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings, T.S Garp in The World According to Garp. Robin Williams is a gimmick because we should only see him as an actor who only and should only do comedy roles and nothing else. If that is your mindset, then one is narrow-minded. 

Though hearing him utter the line, ''It's not your fault'' to Matt Damon's Will several times, is enough to annoy me. That and almost all of his scenes with Matt Damon involve sitting around and doing nothing and saying little. Yes, I know that is the role of a therapist or whatever he is supposed to be, but that doesn't go far enough. His character Sean Maguire is practically the same type of role as the one in Awakenings, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and Patch Adams for Williams: the one where he takes an unorthodox approach, who goes about things in a free-spirited manner and goes about it differently to his peers or those in authority. It's no more as different here as it is in those films really, and whilst that will annoy some people, that is the type of role I for one, enjoy seeing him play. Robin is more effective being the voice of reason as a character, rather than as an evil bad guy. Sean is more, though not so much along the lines of Malcolm Sayer of Awakenings when it comes to his reserved performances and here it is very reserved and restrained. Although making Sean relate to Will, in the sense that he too came from the same area as him, is too obvious and apparent. 

But, for the silly, innocuous fart joke, I thought Robin's showing was great to watch and as ever, he really shows how good he is at doing drama. Matt Damon was good in his role, even though I don't care for him as an actor or his movies, Ben Affleck wasn't in the film as much for me to form an opinion on him because his role was superficial. The chemistry between Matt and Minnie Driver was one I didn't really buy into, and the rest of the film becomes more interesting as it went on. Minnie didn't do much for me. 

Good Will Hunting is a competent effort that doubles up as one of those Mills & Boon romance novels, thanks to the romance subplot - only it has slightly more redeemable qualities, but not one I'd go crazy and ga-ga for. It lacked the dramatic punches and twists it needed to help elevate it as a film. Despite this, though it is not quite exactly the Hollywood epic as it has been touted over the years it is also a film that is not immune to criticism, even for all of its praises. & I am also a bit mystified as to how it won best screenplay at the 1998 Academy Awards. 

Also, the film's message seems to imply that society is at fault and that one shouldn't take responsibility for their own actions. Which I think is wrong and so false. 

Yet Good Will Hunting is in some ways, all right.  


Pros +

- Robin Williams, to some extent Matt Damon and Minnie Driver 

- Good camaraderie between Robin Williams and Matt Damon 

- Story was nice 

- Nicely portrays lower-class Boston Irish life

Cons -

- Couldn't really stand Will Hunting as a character

- Derivative and didn't blow me away

- Swearing was overdone and off-putting with the usage of the F-word

- Film never delves deep enough, especially with regards to Will's formative years

Final Verdict:

The plot of a genius who doesn't have the ambition or faith has been done several times; unfortunately, it is also marred by the gratuitous use of the F-word that basically adds nothing to the story, nor does it detract from it. 

Good Will Hunting's plot and story's conception could have been approached better and with heart, but instead, whilst it has its moments it didn't really make the impact that I'd expected, that I'd wanted. 

Robin Williams practically saves this film and is the only reason why I cared for it in the first place, as intentionally likeable as his character was. In all, Good Will Hunting is a respectable effort - yet it didn't blow me away compared to Good Morning, Vietnam, Awakenings, The Fisher King. 

In summing up the plot to this film in less than 15 words, I'd say it is ''a troubled genius turned good un'' and it is one that is good, yet it also never quite goes deep enough. It is more of a snug fit. Though personally, the material and the story is a lot more fulfilling and it is sporadically more compelling than Dead Poets Society,
 as it has more going for itBut I don't buy into the hype of movies: just because the Academy Awards folk say it's amazing, do I have to always agree with them? No, and all of my movie preferences are down to my own tastes, how I receive the characters, how likeable they are and it's not just down to the performances. 

Good Will Hunting is a solid, sound and sufficient effort that deserves to be viewed more than once, with a well-told story and impressive performances. & those performances and individual moments are what makes the film tick, despite the constant usage of the F-word.

It's not exactly a stroke of genius so many critics have lauded it as, but it's still a film worth recommending and seeing.


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