Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
The Nineties were a curious decade without any real style of their own. Not as overly tacky as the 80s and not as technologically charged as the 00s, they were the transition between “the good old days” and “the new century”. At least that is what they felt like to me and mine (meaning all those who were somewhere in their teens or early twenties in the 90s). So in a way Good Will Hunting is the epitome of this decade: it is neither as tacky as some 80s movies were, nor is it groundbreaking on any technical or content level. It is a transition film, the kind we had a lot of before the revolutionary year 1999 happened, arguably the best year in film to date. (Read about the reasons here.)
All in all I think most people might think of Good Will Hunting as a decent film, all things considered, but for argument’s sake, let’s look at all the things going against GWH:
For one thing, it gave us Ben Affleck — or more precisely it gave him a big(ger) career – which is only in very minor parts a good thing. As long as Ben doesn’t think he is hot shit, he is fairly tolerable in movies, but mainly only on those occasions when he appears next to his buddy and brother from another mother Matt Damon. It is almost as if Damon’s inarguable talent lifts Affleck up to another level as well. As a duo, they are pretty hilarious in the Jay and Silent Bob movies and in Dogma. But I can’t name a single movie with Ben Affleck in it minus Matt Damon that is actually worth seeing. For the hence obvious reason that Matt Damon is the better actor of the two of them, I am really glad Damon won the coin toss for the role of Will Hunting and Affleck got to play his best friend Chuckie. Can you imagine the movie at all with reversed roles???
Another factor against the “GWH is a good movie” argument for some people is that it also gave us Robin William as one of those understanding, mentor type of characters again, much like he was in Dead Poets Society, a movie which many have soured on over the years. I personally like Robin Williams and I love him even more when he is doing stand-up. I can’t really stand him in his comedic film roles a la Flubber or Mrs. Doubtfire, but when he gets to be the inspirational teacher and mentor, I eat it up and love him. I am a woman abandoned by her father though, so maybe that is part of the reason. For most, and I suspect a lot of these “most” are men, Robin Williams in a role like he has in GWH is a sure-fire way to make them vomit from the treacly sensitivity. To those I say: embrace your emotions and let yourself cry a little; it’s so liberating.
So we have already established GWH wasn’t groundbreaking filmmaking, even by 1996 standards, when it came out. Sure, it won an Oscar, but so did a lot of films that didn’t seem to earn them in retrospect.
GWH has another opponent to contend with, one many movies have trouble with: time. It’s been fourteen years since its release. So what have the years done to the movie and its reception? Many have seen it, most would describe it as “decent”, but not a lot of people have the guts to say what I am about to say: Good Will Hunting is my all-time favorite movie. And this admission makes it a guilty pleasure for sure, because not a lot of self-respecting film students would be caught dead saying that. And yet here I am, saying it.
As of last count I had seen GWH 76 times. I took writing this article as an excuse to watch it again. Twice. So I am at 78. Have any of you Star Wars nuts seen any of those movies that many times? Have any of you bothered to even keep count? See, I am looking guiltier by the second. I can’t even say GWH is my favorite movie because I consider it superior to films generally considered masterpieces. It’s more a combination of when I saw GWH first, the themes it talks about that are everlasting and relevant to me, the great music by Elliott Smith, Matt Damon’s obvious beauty, the awesome setting in Boston and the great dialog.
The script, actually, is GWH’s blessing and curse. It’s obvious why it was awarded an Oscar, because it is authentic (for Boston and the characters), realistic, witty and very quotable. And yet, while “How do you like them apples?” was acceptable “smack talk” dating from the movie’s release until two months later, these days any self-respecting film lover wouldn’t be caught dead using this quote in conversation anymore. The cheese-factor of GWH has just risen immensely over the years. So much so that it almost counts as a chick flick these days, despite the fact that at its center, the movie is about male friendships as much as it is about romance and coming of age.
I maintain, however, that this part of GWH is the best and highly impressive way to put someone in their place, so learn it and use it next time a Michael Bolton-looking dude tries to put you down.
Apart from the fact that when I first saw GWH I had no idea what they were talking about, this is the ultimate form of cool we all hope to achieve. To beat someone with their own weapons, to prove once and for all they have nothing on you, no matter how big their pay check or prestigious the schools they attended or which rank of the social ladder they reach, is the greatest satisfaction any of us could ever hope to have.
The main reason, however, why I consider GWH my favorite movie no matter what people say is the fact that had I not seen it when I did, I probably would never have studied film at all. I was thirteen back then and my mom and her boyfriend dragged me along to the movies. Normally, I would have loved that, but they wanted to go to the alternative theater in town, which only has one screen and specializes in artsy films, European films, films with subtitles you know the kind. You can tell how thrilled I was. Not.
And then the movie started and I remember back then I thought the opening sequence was incredibly long and boring. These days, we hardly ever get credits rolling at the beginning of a movie anymore, and even in the Nineties it wasn’t all that common anymore. Yet Gus Van Sant (oh, had you forgotten GWH had an awesome director?) chose to have opening credits. Not even fancy ones, by modern standards. We see Will writing equations and shit on the mirror in his tiny, run-down apartment and in between all the reflections of the mirror and seemingly broken glass, the names occur, almost lost in the gibberish.
Once I had gotten through the opening credits (which I love now, btw), the movie immediately started winning me over though. Which teenage girl doesn’t love a wounded, sensitive guy who just needs someone to get through to him, right? But it was also the metaphors the movie used (when Will explains to Skylar how his brain works by talking about a piano or when Chuckie talks about winning the lottery) and the small, iconic moments that lingered with me for a long time. To this day, whenever I hear someone order a Mai Tai, I flap my imaginary plastic-hands snappers and in my best Minnie Driver impression say: “Bring me another Mai Tai!”
Maybe saying GWH is my favorite movie would qualify even more as a guilty pleasure if I was a guy, but I thought it appropriate to write about for Guilty Pleasure Week anyway, because I am sick and tired of the looks I get whenever I admit it to someone new. But awkward glances be damned, I stand by my choice. You can keep your Se7ens and Scarfaces and Godfathers and Blue Velvets, I’d rather watch Good Will Hunting for a 79th time any day. How do you like them apples?
Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.