3 September 2008 | bkoganbing
The Genius In Our Midst
So many personal projects of our best players never come out quite right. The vision they have somehow doesn't translate to the screen, or it's not box office subject matter, or maybe the actors aren't gifted with writing or directing talent. That's certainly not the case with Good Will Hunting which was not only the breakthrough film for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but it will probably remain their most personal endeavor.
Not too much imagination was required though because these guys set this film in their native Boston the city they grew up in, the city they seem to know every nook and cranny of. They didn't even have to lose the New England accents they would have to in most of their other films.
When Matt and Ben wrote Good Will Hunting the fact they were able to interest a top director like Gus Van Sant in the project should have said something before one views a frame of film. Van Sant got an Oscar nominated performance for Matt Damon and a Supporting Actor Oscar for Robin Williams as the psychologist who counsels Damon.
Will Hunting is this average lower middle class kid from South Boston who was in the foster care system and suffered a lot of abuse while growing up. He has some low level jobs, he's constantly getting in trouble with the law for minor scrapes, and he's a functioning genius who for kicks solves a highly complex mathematical equation between buffing floors at MIT.
Which perks the interest of Stellan Skarsgaard highly touted mathematics professor there. He feels and I agree with him that one of the worst sins in the world is wasting the talent the Deity blesses you with, whatever it is. After a succession of therapists who are unable to cope with Damon's genius, Robin Williams gets his turn at bat.
Robin Williams one of the wildest, wackiest, most innovative comics that ever walked the earth, drops all of that to deliver a highly sensitive performance as the psychologist who finally reaches Damon on some level. What Damon does with it is for you to see Good Will Hunting for.
Some of that breakthrough is achieved with the help of Minnie Driver, a British student at Harvard who falls hard for the blue collar Will Hunting. Most of it is achieved though in the film's key scene as Ben Affleck tells him that no matter what your IQ is, if you don't use it and move up and on, you're the stupidest guy here. It's one of Affleck's best scenes in his whole career on film.
I've known a few Will Huntings in my day, blessed with talent I would like to have had and who threw it away for a combination of reasons. One in particular I knew back in the Eighties was a kid who originally grew up in Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountain country to some really uneducated hicks. They discovered he was gay and immediately had him committed. Back in the day, they did all kinds of things to him like electroshock therapy and guess what, it all didn't work. But it left him a twisted and bitter person who gravitated to the new gay rights movement because it was something that finally validated him as a human being.
He also was blessed with an incredible baritone singing voice, he could have sang opera had that been trained instead of his parents trying to change his orientation. But when I last saw him in the middle Eighties no one had or could reach him. He made a living running a cleaning service for apartments. If he couldn't sing militant songs of protest he wasn't interested, even if he could have reached millions more with his issues had he studied, learned, and developed.
Unlike Will Hunting, Jimmy Flowers wasn't reached as far as I know. But Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in writing their Oscar winning original screenplay could have known him. So I'm sure they won't mind if I dedicated this review to Jimmy whether he's alive or no longer with us.
I'm sure there are Jimmy Flowers and Will Huntings that we've all known and hopefully we have the wit to recognize the talent whatever it is and the encouraging nature to make people develop that talent.