When I created my Watchlist, a list of ten films I haven’t seen but should have in an attempt to watch more brilliant movies and review them, I honestly thought I’d be better than this. But here we are, a full year later, and I’ve only watched three. In fairness, they are a good three. But my most recent check off that list is probably one of the best, a milestone film for many of my favourite actors: Good Will Hunting. All I can say is, thank God I caught up on this one.
The film follows Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a young man with an incredible mind, who, rather than attending MIT, is a cleaner there. When he is discovered to have solved an unsolvable maths problem by top professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), he goes on an incredible journey of self-discovery and becoming man with the help of best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck), new girlfriend Skylar (Minnie Driver) and his psychiatrist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams).
Winning two Oscars at the 1998 Academy Awards, Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor, the highlights of the film are its script and its cast. Good Will Hunting’s script finds its heart in the reality of imperfection, poignantly and beautifully painting the reality of life growing up in South Boston, with oh-so realistic dialogue that is witty, funny, full of truth and incredibly touching at times. Nothing is perfect, from the sketchy neighbourhood to the flawed characters, but it is these characters’ abilities to live and fight and love that is gripping as we watch them change and grow.
Will is far from perfect: he’s a bit of an asshole, a selfish child who doesn’t know what he wants, so he does nothing, his life suspended in motion. As we watch him accept his past and his potential future with the help of friends, new mentors, and the love of his life, we watch Will develop and transform into someone who takes responsibility of his own life, instead of just passing the blame. But despite all this, in the end he hasn’t really changed; he’s still selfish, but he’s using it to chase the things he really wants in life, instead of just defying everyone around him for the sake of it. But that’s real life; we might change a little bit, but we’re still ourselves, love us or leave us, and this is the truth of the film: you can’t please everyone, and you don’t have to – you only have to please yourself.
Armed with a script from Hollywood’s greatest romance (Damon and Affleck, of course), the cast elevates this film to near perfect, each scene as iconic as the next. Matt Damon is brilliant as Will, perfectly understanding and combining the caring, loving boy genius with the hardened Boston orphan; he feels like both a scared little boy and wise beyond his years, really showing his depth (how did he not win an Oscar??). The perfect foil, Ben Affleck plays his best friend Chuckie, and is wonderfully enjoyable as the comic relief in a movie that isn’t afraid to hit the deep notes. Minnie Driver is sublime as Skylar, Will’s love interest and so much more, and some of the best scenes in the film (like the heartbreaking bedroom scene in her Harvard dorm room) come from her ability to deliver so much raw emotion.
However, in his Oscar winning turn, Robin Williams’ psychiatrist Sean Maguire is compelling as he turns Will’s life around, his hardened edge so stark from what we’re used to. In a performance that needs seeing to be believed, his subtle lessons and advice on life, love and everything in between never overpower the movie or turn cliché, but are beautiful, and can often be interpreted any way. Like in Dead Poet’s Society, he’s the mentor we all wish we had, and I’m just grateful that a film like Good Will Hunting gives us this.
Gus Van Sant’s beautiful picture of real life in Boston makes us nostalgic for a life of such love; of such good friends, and first loves, and counsellors to help us through the hard times in life. But it’s also full of the tough stuff, of heartache and heartbreak, and moving on. Good Will Hunting is brilliant coming of age film that doesn’t indulge in teenage cliches and fantasies of growing up and realising your potential; rather, creates its poetry from the truth, never minding whether it’s harsh or sweet, and through this Van Sant, Damon and Affleck have made a film for generations to enjoy.
I love this cast. So much. So here’s my top five favourite films starring the cast of Good Will Hunting:
- The Bourne Identity – Matt Damon
- Dead Poet’s Society – Robin Williams
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ben Affleck
- Thor – Stellan Skarsgard
- Aladdin – Robin Williams
Pictures taken from IMDb.com: