Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the screenplay Good Will Hunting from a short story Matt had written in college. Their story of writing the screenplay and nurturing it along until it got filmed the way they envisioned is inspirational to any aspiring screenwriter. But here, I’m going to tell you about the film, which is a masterpiece. Gus Van Sant directed the fine cast, which included the two young screenwriters/actors as well as Robin Williams in the important role of Sean, Will’s therapist. The drama is rated R for strong language, including some sex-related dialogue.
Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a troubled young man, an orphan who suffered abuse at the hands of a succession of foster parents. He lives in an impoverished neighborhood in Boston, where he hangs out with his loyal working class buddies, including his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck). Will is also a mathematical genius, but chooses to work as a janitor. His janitorial position just happens to be at MIT, where he surreptitiously completes math problems left on the blackboards for advanced students.
Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) tracks down the mysterious Will, and decides to try and help him. He strikes an agreement with Will’s parole officer to keep him out of jail. They will meet weekly for math instruction, and a therapist will provide weekly therapy sessions for Will.
Will scoffs at the idea of therapy, no doubt having suffered through many inadequate counseling sessions in the past. But the professor enlists the help of an old college roommate of his, Sean, who teaches psychology at a community college. Sean is quickly intrigued by Will and the challenge, and agrees to provide the therapy.
This film amazes me every time I watch it because of the way the therapy is portrayed. There is little I can complain about other than one moment when Sean becomes angry with Will and pushes him up against a wall. Other than that, Sean is depicted as an ethical and competent therapist, which we don’t often encounter in the movies.
One night when Will and his buddies go to a Harvard hangout, he meets Skylar (Minnie Driver), a pre-med student from England. She is charmed by his wit, and gives him her phone number. They begin to date, but Will can only allow Skylar to see little bits of himself, fearing that if he reveals who he really is, she will leave him.
Sean helps Will with his intimacy issues, and it is a beautiful thing to watch. At the Academy Awards, Robin Williams won Best Supporting Actor, and Matt Damon was nominated for Best Actor. Damon and Affleck famously won Best Original Screenplay, and it launched them into their successful acting careers. The nominations and awards that were given to Good Will Hunting are far too long to list here. If I didn’t know who the screenwriters were, I would have guessed them to be far older than they were when this was written (they were in their twenties). The dialogue is clever and wise, and the decisions Will makes about his life, important decisions about friends, career, and love, are depicted realistically. This is one of my favorite movies, and I hope that someday, Damon and Affleck will write again.