Good Will Hunting (1998)
Only in the movies are characters like Will Hunting encountered: a blue collar savant with sculpted biceps, he secretly solves complex math problems while pushing a broom at MIT. Back in his charmingly rundown south Boston flat, he devours books with the speed of Evelyn Wood, then cruises, boozes and brawls with his buddies. When he's arrested for the umpteenth time, he defends himself in court by citing obscure 19th century laws.
Will (Matt Damon) is an everyman Einstein dreamboat with a big chip on his shoulder that keeps him from connecting emotionally and achieving his full intellectual potential. Enter Gerard Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), a mathematics professor more than a little impressed by Will's math prowess. As Will's mentor, Lambeau feeds him math problems and assorted therapists -- willful Will is bored by the calculations and resistant to psychological rehabilitation. But he finally meets his match in Sean McGuire (Robin Williams), a community college psychology professor, grieving widower and wily homeboy from the old neighborhood.
Meanwhile, Will is involved with Skylar (Minnie Driver), a British med student with whom he can't quite connect because of his past as an abused orphan. Will Will learn to love? Will Sean crack Will's tough guy exterior to reveal the sensitive genius inside? Can Will teach his therapist to take chances again?
These are pretty much stock conflicts in the therapy movie game, and *Good Will Hunting* doesn't really cover any new territory in resolving them. Nonetheless, *Good Will Hunting*, cowritten by south Boston buddies Damon and Ben Affleck (in a supporting role as Will's best friend Chuckie), is rather enjoyable given how corny and utterly predictable it is. Will's therapeutic breakthrough is pure Hollywood: swift and abrupt, it happens just in time for him to tidy up all the loose ends in his life. Still, *Good Will Hunting* has it's moments of spark and originality, bits of prickly, low-rent roughness that are as satisfying as a good scratch after all the weepy male sensitivity training.
What really works in *Good Will Hunting* is the acting, which engages despite the underdeveloped characters and farfetched circumstances. The performances are nicely minimalist, as is Gus Van Sant's unobtrusive direction. Damon, in the sort of role young actors drool over, is quietly powerful as Will, a character who spars constantly, with both his fists and his words, and always pounds his opponent to pulp. Williams, whose roles can be divided into serious (beard) and comic (beardless), is unusually good in this beard role -- where he usually plays passionate and caring as loud and overly enthusiastic, here he is quiet and understated as a touchy-feely burnout who is uniquely capable of healing Will because the two of them are so much alike. Skarsgard's Lambeau is fairly one-note: an effete intellectual snob, he is in awe of Will, and determined to share the boy's brain with the world (for reasons that are not fully explored). Driver is occasionally allowed to sparkle, but she is largely wasted as Skylar, who spends too much time weeping and mooning over Will.
The working class demimonde of south Boston is effectively depicted, and the dialogue and story are most lively and realistic when Will and his buddies are together. They cruise aimlessly from pub to pub, drinking, jesting, and roughhousing, the banter snappy and funny, the Southie accent thick. Less effective is the portrayal of academia: community college coeds are extreme dullards while MIT students and professors alike are all nerdy eggheads (and, compared to Will, relative dunces). While it's all intended to make a point about the nature of good Will's character and conflict, the stereotyping, like so much else in the movie, is too black and white -- *Good Will Hunting* would be more interesting and believable with more color, and a few shades of grey.