Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Good Will Hunting

I know I am a month late on this, but it only felt appropriate for my next random movie backlog blog to be on a Robin Williams movie since his tragic death last month. When I think of Robin Williams, I try to forget a lot of the unappealing films he has appeared in this past decade, and remember instead how much I loved him as I grew up through the 90s. My first memory of him was vaguely remembering him in Hook, but I have not seen that since it came out in 1992 when I was 9 so my memories are quite hazy, but I will never forget his outrageous performance in Mrs. Doubtfire that I must have seen countless times as a kid.

Williams was amazing in his more passionate, dramatic roles in films like Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come and the film I will be covering here in more detail shortly. I also learned not to count Williams out in a few films in the 90s I went into with low expectations. Jumanji, Jack and Death to Smoochie all sounded like ridiculous premises I thought would flop, but all three won me over. Maybe I should take a look back at some of his recent films, there are likely a few gems in there I probably dismissed too easily. I loved his stand up act on Broadway he put on DVD around the turn of the century, with his bit on how the Scottish invented golf cracking me up the most. Upon reading some other tribute articles online, I instantly added a couple other well regarded Robin Williams movies I have neglected to see in my Netflix DVD Queue such as Dead Poets Society and The Fisher King.

Now concerning today's blog, I looked through my backlog box, and sure enough I had my all time favorite Robin Williams movie in there. It was in there because I replaced my old DVD copy earlier this year with the 15th Anniversary BluRay put out two years ago of the movie I am covering today, 1997's Good Will Hunting (trailer). Today, Good Will Hunting is known as the launch pad for Ben Affleck & Matt Damon's careers as the duo won an academy award for the film for best screenplay, and Robin Williams received one for best supporting actor. However, I did not see the film until 2002, and was not even aware of it until 2001 when a naive 18 year old version of myself giddily rushed out to the opening of Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, which contained a scene of the mini spoof 'sequel,' Hunting Season, that clued me in about Good Will Hunting in the first place.

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) appears to be another 20 year old party bopper janitor slumming it up with his pals Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser) in the south Boston bar scene. Will cleans at Harvard, where he likes to crack extremely difficult math proofs between jobs from acclaimed Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard). A local scuffle looks like Will would be facing jail time, until Lambeau steps in and takes Will under his wing at Harvard, and also assigns him to therapy with his old friend Sean Maguire (Robin Williams). Mix in Will's love interest Skylar (Minnie Driver), and Will Hunting has quite the plateful to manage as he attempts to overcome past demons and establish his future.

The first thing that comes to mind about Good Will Hunting is how quotable it is. If you checked out the spoof sequel linked above, the catalyst for that was the classic scene where Will stands up for Chuckie at a pub where a local student is trying to embarrass Chuckie in his failing attempts to win over Skylar which climaxes with the legendary line, "How do you like them apples!?" There are so many other great lines and gags in here, but in case you have not seen this yet I will hold back from spoiling them all here. The second thing is how remarkable a job the casting was for this. Here you have the movie that led to both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon breaking out, and Casey Affleck was not that far behind them either. Throw in established veterans like Williams and Skarsgard to lead the way and I still find it surprising all these years later how this pot of big names managed to have a perfect chemistry on screen.

Another reason I love this movie is just a collection of great moments throughout that keep getting grander with bigger payoffs. It could be Will outshining Lambeau at Harvard, Chuckie telling off Will or Lambeau and Sean fighting over what is right for Will. The best moments though are easily the slow building relationship between Will and Sean. I love every therapy session scene in this movie, as the initially standoff-ish Will gradually opens up and trusts Sean more and more, all leading up to the epic "It's not your fault" payoff that exploded off the screen in a powerful way like few movies have resonated with me before. They reminded me of the also awesome therapy session scenes in 1980's Ordinary People that I hope served as an inspiration here.

Director Gus Van Sant did a masterful job shooting this, as this movie flows and gels smoothly from beginning to end. The transition shots are the little things that go a big way here to keep things clicking and allow ample time to digest all the said big moments of the film. Sant, Affleck and Damon do provide commentary for the film from the original DVD release, and I jumped around and caught about a half hour of it and they are all pretty relaxed and constantly throwing out facts from production throughout. Part of me wishes that Miramax would have included a new commentary mixing in some of the supporting actors for a new take on this anniversary edition, but they make up for it later. There are some other old DVD extras also available including two short production featurettes, a music video and 20 minutes of deleted scenes, with or without commentary from Gus, Matt and Ben. Make sure to give the deleted scenes a look as there are a couple that I wish in hindsight would have made the final cut, and the guys admit in the commentary that they wanted them in, but they were really trimming to make that two hour mark.

There are two new extra features in HD well worth going out of your way to check out. The first is Matt Damon Remembers Good Will Hunting. It is a 17 minute interview with Matt as he reflects and comments on coming up with the screenplay, working with Robin, auditioning for Dead Poets Society and eventually coming to trust Gus as his go to director for the film. The second is just over an hour long feature split up into four parts called Reflecting on a Journey: Good Will Hunting 15 Years Later. Here Affleck and Damon are interviewed together, and later we get interview snippets from Williams, Van Sant and executive producer Kevin Smith, among others. There are a ton of great anecdotes here including Kevin Smith telling the tale on how he helped get the film to be made by Miramax, how Mel Gibson came extremely close to becoming the director, Matt and Ben crushing over the acting and improv prowess of Robin Williams, and what their first trip to the Oscars was like. There is an unexpected touching close to this feature with Robin Williams signing off.

I have no problem saying outright that Good Will Hunting is one of my all time favorite dramas, if not one of my all time favorite movies period. I remember at least a few occasions when discussing favorite movies with friends and peers, and Good Will Hunting is always one of the first movies I throw out there. For fans out there who have yet to own an HD version, this anniversary BluRay is well worth the upgrade for the two new extras alone that go a long way honoring the legacy this movie has left behind.

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

21 Jump Street
Bounty Hunters
Captain America: The First Avenger
Field of Dreams
The Fighter
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Source Code
Veronica Mars

No comments:

Post a Comment