AP’s Hot Take – Why the Success of Good Will Hunting?

The following article was written by guest contributor Arthur Pendalyn. Arthur is a stay at home unemployed college graduate with a BA in English literature, though he prefers the world “fiction”. In his past he moonlighted as a video store clerk, and even once won an argument with a customer who tried to persuade him that David Lynch’s Dune was underrated masterpiece. To quote Arthur, “That movie is a piece of shit!”

There comes a moment in time when every actor has to fake it just to get a job. Johnny Depp waded in the depths of the teenage schlock fest televisoin show known as 21 Jump Street; Stallone did a porno. The bottom line is every actor must drag himself (I prefer the traditional masculine pronoun to the banal so-call “progressive” plural non-gendered) through mud just to one day earn that ever career defining Oscar. And then there were Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

Everything about them screams entitlement. Their cocksure smiles, chiseled jaw lines, that grace in the public eye. Hell, I could be them if I just worked out a little bit. But that’s besides the point. These two came onto the scene with a golden spoon in their mouths, and honestly, they’ve coasted by on these laurels for far too long.

The idea first struck me when I read through my research that they won their first ever Oscar for their (maybe?) heart lifting drama Good Will Hunting. In part a heartwarming tale of a genius who’s given up on success and life, it’s a crowd pleasing hug yourself of a film directed by the faux art house director Gus Van Sant. It also features a charming but safe performance by the late Robin Williams, who I refuse to speak any ill will towards.* And to everyone’s shock and awe, was written by two upcoming nobodies who just so happened to be handsome enough to be famous. As if the head of the class getting an award just for trying, this handsome duo were given the keys to the kingdom of Hollywood and haven’t looked back since. Problem is, they’re phonies.

Here’s why:

Affleck is just not a good actor nor leading man. Don’t believe me? Go watch Daredevil and Gigli.  He coasts simply on looks and charm–a poor man’s Clooney if you will. He seems to be always aware that he is the lead, smiling and trying not to melt woman’s panties with his smooth grin. But he always comes out stilted and one note–a shade of Keanu Reeves if you will. To add insult to the wound, he went on to become an acclaimed director; even being called an auteur (a useless term if there was one). In my estimation he’s made three decent genre films that are tight in their construction but woefully undercooked.

Just take Argo, his other other Academy Award winning flick. It delivers a tight story about the rescue on American citizens trapped in Iran during the US hostage crisis in Iran. It’s a wonderful set-up for a heist narrative, along with some noteworthy key supporting characters played by John Goodman and Alan Arkin. But that’s it. Nothing about it strokes my heartstrings not restores my faith in the corrupt US government. I just watched a guy do his job and move on. And worse, it’s merely an exercise in controlled editing. This is Spielberg lite, and it ain’t Coke Zero.

The real best picture winner at that year’s Academy Awards  should have been Kathryn Bigelow’s morally ambiguous masterpiece Zero Dark Thirty. But I digress. I want stimulation, not dullness.

The other side of the duo, Matt Damon, has had a more solid and rewarding career. Having the honor of working with Spielberg, Soderbergh, Greengrass, and Scorsese (I left Scott, Eastwood, and Nolan off the list because they’re hacks), he might very well be my generation’s Tom Cruise. He can deliver classic Hollywood leading man charm while beefing up to be the defining action star of this era through the Jason Bourne films. HGH does wonders, but deep down ask yourself, has Damon ever really given a soulful performance? Has he ever brought this man to tears?

In my estimation, the closest he got to this point was his subtle turn in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan–a heartfelt yet schmaltzy piece of pop art that just tiptoes hell’s boundary of being called Oscar bait. But even on that role, boy did he look handsome and friendly. It has broad paint strokes of just being a country boy fighting the good cause, and it blends masterfully with John Williams uplifting and heroic score. But this is pop art and Spielberg has always verged on being a fake. Just like Dan Schneider says. And I don’t buy it.

So they’re you have it. It’s no surprise that Good Will Hunting is a hollow attempt in exploring the nature of genius and poverty. The climax of the film involves Damon’s Will Hunting attending a therapy session with William’s Sean Maguire. All of Will’s problems are solved by a hug and the mantra “It’s not your fault.” I’ve seen a therapist, many in fact, and I don’t believe in problems being solved by hugs. Nor do I buy the romance between Will and Skylar (played by cute but not quite deep Minnie Driver).

The reality is Will would have been a suicidal alcoholic, submitting articles to academic journals who would refuse to accept them because of a lack of a degree. And honestly, there was a better film about this character. That was called Barfly, and starred a chameleon-like Mickey Rourke playing a Charles Bukowski stand-in. But that film didn’t pander to simpleminded American audiences. And it sure as hell didn’t win any Oscars.

But damn are those two handsome.


* This disclaimer was mandated by the editor.


About Arthur Pendalyn

Arthur Pendalyn is a stay at home unemployed college graduate, with a BA in English literature (though he prefers the world "fiction"). In his past he moonlighted as a video store clerk, and even once won an argument with a customer who tried to persuade him that David Lynch's Dune was underrated masterpiece. To quote Arthur, "That movie is a piece of shit!"
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