Good Will Hunting, with an Oscar-winning original screenplay by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and directed by Gus Van Sant, is an aggressively mediocre film. A good-looking, stylish one. But mediocre nonetheless.
Damon stars as Will, a 20 year-old M.I.T. janitor with a police record who happens to also be a mathematical blackboard- scrawling, theorem-solving genius the likes of Michael Rennie in The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Subsequently sponsored by professor Stellan Skarsgard, Will is persuaded to attend therapy sessions to avoid incarceration. Naturally, Will is too smart for the average therapist, but he finds his match in Robin Williams, Skarsgard’s ex -college roomie who shares a similar upbringing with Will. Damon and Williams spend most of the film psycho-analyzing each other to the point where the personal demons pile up so high it’s hard to take the film seriously. The Damon-Williams sessions come off like riffs from the Tim Hutton-Judd Hirsch sessions in Ordinary People. Damon and Affleck’s screenplay is all exposition – there’s not one unspoken thought in the entire movie – which restricts Van Sant’s gorgeous visual style to some pretty montages, providing some much needed atmosphere. It will be interesting to see what Van Sant does on his next project, a remake of Hitchcock’s Pyscho, which seems, without question, the worst idea for a remake in Hollywood’s silly history.
On the plus side, there’s Minnie Driver, genuinely engaging as Will’s Harvard sweetie Skylar, and the only believable (and likable) character in the film. She’s a smart girl with self-doubts, determination and charm, but Damon and Affleck chuck her out at exactly the wrong time, as if they, like Will, have no idea what to do with her. What we’re left with is labored and pretentiously manipulative therapy scenes that seem to yield the facile revelations that no one is perfect, and that you shouldn’t waste your natural abilities. Had Damon and Affleck not given their hero such a surfeit of mental baggage, and had they not treated genius as something intrinsically aberrant , this shallow celebration of tough love may have been easier to take.