Make The Boys Cry
Gus Van Sant's Good Will Hunting is a sentimental, sincere flick.
Thursday, January 8, 1998
Contrived, pretentious, and yet blessed with some heartfelt performances, Good Will Hunting is a movie that serves up pat answers for pat audiences.
Heart warming? I suspect it will be for many viewers. Original? Not even close. Ten minutes after the opening credits rolled, I knew everything that was going to happen. Most veteran moviegoers will, too.
Scripted by co-stars Matt Damon >(Rainmaker) and Ben Affleck >(Chasing Amy) and directed by indie-fave Gus van Sant, Good Will Hunting''s title character is a roughneck janitor from South Boston who has a genius IQ and a tormented past. He''s discovered after he writes the answer to a brain-busting math problem on a blackboard in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology building he cleans. A math professor (Stellan Skarsgard) who learns of Will''s gift gets him to agree to accept tutoring and counseling as part of a deal to avoid probation. After Will alienates half a dozen therapists, Skarsgard asks an old college pal, uber-mensch Robin Williams, to help him out.
Along the way, Will-who resembles Sean Leonard with Mark Wahlberg''s body-meets the perfunctory love interest, Minnie Driver, in an incidental role as a med student.
Damon has written himself a great role in Will Hunting, and he plays the character well, all full of swaggering braggadocio, resentment, and rage (although his carefully blonde-streaked hair and perfect white teeth have no place on a working-class boy). The scenes between him, Affleck, and his other buddies-fellow "Southies" from the white slums of Boston-are also engaging.
Likewise, the film serves as a young man''s hanky-weeper, filled with themes of lost childhood, the yearning for acceptance, and the importance of father figures, with Skarsgard and Williams battling it out for Will''s soul. The math professor wants Will to be the next Einstein; Williams wants him to be happy. A Julliard-trained actor, Williams gives a restrained, likable performance almost completely free of shtick. A scene where Williams tells Damon that he is not responsible for the abusive way his foster parents treated him is a gem.
But the script also reveals these twentysomething actors'' immaturity. The situations that move the plot along are as predictable as a cookie recipe and the characters completely contrived. The central conflict-a battle of heart over head-would have been much fresher 10 or 20 years ago, before Ordinary People, Little Man Tate, and The Dead Poets Society. And Skarsgard''s role must have been snatched from the Imperious Eggheads shelf at Stereotypes-R-Us. All the professors are arrogant and cold, natch. In the last 20 years, Asians, blacks, women and gays have made enormous strides on the silver screen; in the next 20, maybe bookworms, four-eyed scientists and brainiacs will catch a break. I''m not holding my breath.
Mick LaSalle, film critic of the San Francisco Chronicle once noted that American moviegoers don''t want originality in their films; they want the same stories told over and over, like bedtime tales. Add Good Will Hunting to the list of oft-told tales. cw
Deconstructing Harry HHH
Wanna watch Julia Louis-Dreyfuss (Elaine from "Seinfeld") having sex in front of her blind grandmother? How about Kirstie Alley screaming carnal obscenities? Or even better, Demi Moore saying a Jewish blessing over the genitalia she''s about to go down on? Woody Allen had one thing and one thing only on his mind when he wrote his latest film: SEX. That Allen is 62 years old and newly married does little to support his claim that his movies are not a reflection of his personal life. In Deconstructing Harry, Allen plays a sex-obsessed writer who has trouble distinguishing between life and art, sex and life, and on and on. He also enjoys being beaten by black prostitutes. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is a clever film, but certainly not his best. The large supporting cast, featuring many recognizable faces, is more of a distraction than an asset, but comes together with Allen to make an enjoyable, if somewhat tedious, film. Rated R. At the Crossroads Cinema. DM
Take a natural disaster, add a criminal plot and a helpless beautiful woman and what do you get? Any action/adventure flick out of Hollywood. This time it''s Firestorm, a story about the smokejumpers who drop in to fight rampaging forest fires. These fearless men and women are certainly deserving of movie recognition, but Firestorm dims their true heroics with an unlikely plot twist about a convicted murderer (William Forsythe, The Rock, Dick Tracy) who poses as a fireman to hatch an implausible escape. There''s a struggle, a damsel in distress (played by Suzy Amis, Titanic) and of course, a hero, smokejumper team leader Jesse Graves (played by real-life hunk and "Fox NFL Sunday" host Howie Long). Scenes of dense Vancouver wilderness ablaze are sure to impress. Rated R. At the Galaxy 6, Northridge Cinemas. KW
Good Will Hunting HHH
(Reviewed this issue) Rated R. At Northridge and State.
Daniel Day-Lewis has played all the roles due a major film star: romantic, political zealot, misunderstood genius, even an earth man running the Mohawk Trail. Now add pugilist to the list, as Lewis stars in The Boxer, the third collaboration between director Jim Sheridan and writer Terry George >(In the Name of the Father; Some Mother''s Son). Again the setting is Northern Ireland and Lewis plays Danny, an ex-con who starts a community boxing gym in Belfast-neutral ground where Catholics and Protestants are welcome, and ancestral anger is duked out on the mat. Emily Watson, who wooed audiences with last year''s Breaking the Waves plays his former sweetheart who is now the unhappy wife of an IRA prisoner. Rated R. At the Galaxy 6. KW
Wag the Dog
Politics offer never ending fodder for movie scripts. And in the Dick Morris-era of president making, DC spin doctors are natural target for everything from slapstick comedy and blow ''em up action to satires like Barry Levinson''s latest triumph, Wag the Dog. The story goes something like this: The President has gotten caught with his pants down at the untimely eve of his reelection, threatening his credibility with the voters. A brilliant plot by administration rumor miller Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) leads to an absurd pairing of Beltway/Hollywood mastery with flash producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to create a fictional war with Albania that the unscrupulous prez, of course, handles deftly. DeNiro and Hoffman seem to be having as good of a time with David Mamet''s sharp dialog as the audience is watching them get all loose and silly. Wag the Dog breathes fresh air into what is becoming a tired theme. Rated R. At the Lighthouse Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas. KW