Title: Good Will Hunting
Release Date: December 5, 1997
Director: Gus Van Sant
Production Company: Be Gentlemen
I have a soft spot for this movie because it was released shortly before I moved to Boston and served as a good orientation guide for to acclimate to the city. Boston and Cambridge serve as great background for many of the scenes although a lot of the places no longer exist after 25 years of gentrification. (One scene was filmed in “The Tasty” in Harvard Square which went out of business before the movie was released). The movie also set Matt Damon and Ben Affleck – who wrote and star in the movie – on the path to superstardom.
Good Will Hunting also helped kick off a decade and a half of Boston movies, although unlike many of its successors it does not focus on mobsters and violence. Instead it is an intimate story about a troubled young man Will Hunting (Damon) who has grown up with abusive foster families. Despite his poor background he is a prodigy who has educated himself, with a particular strength in mathematics. While working as a janitor at M.I.T. he solves an “impossible” equation on a chalkboard and attracts the attention of Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård, playing the role with equal parts arrogance and awe). Because Will has been indicted for hitting a police officer, Lambeau arranges to have Will avoid jail time if he will work with him to solve mathematical problems and go to therapy.
After some false starts, Will begins to meet for regular therapy sessions with Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams, in what is probably his greatest “serious” movie role). At the same time, Will starts dating Skylar (Minnie Driver), a Harvard student from Britain. Will’s best friend Chuckie (Affleck) also challenges Will to take advantage of his intellectual gifts. Through these three relationships Will’s defense mechanisms begin breaking down.
I like this movie because it is heartfelt without being cheezy. There’s a lot of humor in the movie but it doesn’t shy away from serious issues. And while the plot is predictable, the heart of the movie is in its wonderful characters which payoff in individual moments.