By Fionna Farrell
If there’s anything integral to the Obie experience, it’s becoming deeply ashamed of the normal things you once liked. For my 18-year-old self, whose ghost still haunts my uncoolest hours, it was Gilmore Girls and exclamation points. It was soccer. It was a generally positive outlook towards life. When you come to Oberlin, you are expected to give up these things, in exchange for the small reward of knowing that you are better than everyone else.
For a while, this meant I had to give up one of my favorite movies. I won’t tell you the title just yet, in case the title of the article eluded you, but let’s just say it is about a working-class, highly lump-brained individual in the greater Boston area. It may or may not have won a writing award at the Oscars, beating out Boston contemporary Mark Wahlberg’s dick-flick, and it may or may not be soundtracked by the vocal sunshine of Elliott Smith. It’s hard to say, in a word, what I admire so much about this obscure, hardly-ever-quoted gem of ‘90s cinema. It’s easy to say what I love.
I first saw G*** W*** H****** at the taste-impressionable age of twelve years, when I was at the nadir of my middle-school suffering. But, circumstantially, life was good — parents, gainfully employed, young pup healthy, and Radiohead undiscovered. It was that peculiar moment in life where sleep grew plagued by the query: who am I becoming as a person? How, besides listening to The Clash, might I swim against the current? The answer to this to twelve (and twenty-one) year-old me was to find another thing (besides The Clash) to commit myself to.
For no other reason than that I watched it with my tear-concealer dad, that my teacher had recently called me “actually very bright”, that I had a once-removed aunt who lived in Boston, and that I needed to hear that it was “not my fault” during recess for causing the team to lose the soccer match — did Good Will Hunting become that thing. I am only being half-facetious when I say these things, and with my better half; when you are that age, when the maelstrom of teenage drama and heartbreak hasn’t had time to destroy your inner-essence, Matt Damon really becomes the only lens through which you see the world. I became enamored with Boston-speak, before I was subsequently forced to watch “boy movies” like The Departed and The Town, a little bit older. The Town is a movie I will pretend to hate and not be pretending — with Good Will Hunting, the pretending only started more recently.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment in time when my unquestioning faith in the wicked smaht religion began to dwindle. But let’s just say it was somewhere around the third or fourth watch, around the time when I started wondering not “Who am I?” but “Would I look good with a dyed undercut?” At fifteen, so acquainted with no cinephiles beyond the Tarantino variety, I was not regurgitating Fellini or even Charlie Kaufman at that point. But the stars in my eyes were growing dimmer, forming far fewer constellations. We all feel like we are living in Russian novels by the time we are fifteen.
Do I blame Mr. Kaleemuddin “Kale Muffin,” who taught fourth-period biology? Do I blame my parents’ silly intransigence to stay together despite the text messages I had chosen to read? Do I blame my best friend who made Robert Smith Pinterest boards, or was it the (5’9”) goalie who made garbage earrings? It’s never easy to say what exactly is making you so bitter until you find yourself floor-to-ass in a UPenn dropout’s basement cuddling a cat named something like Bong Water. What movies did twenty-three-year-olds even watch, anyway? Gone with the Wind?
Needless to say, as I grew older, I started thinking that Good Will Hunting was not only uncool, but also unforgivably corny. And for the artistically-minded, where the only true laugh is one of schadenfreude, corniness is the original sin. Allow me to illustrate Good Will Hunting’s portrait of unimaginable cringe: first off, Will Hunting is basically the Academy’s wet dream. He can bench…like, a high number…enjoys getting into fisticuff brawls with his kindergarten bullies, and lives in an abominable shithole of an apartment on the wrong side of the tracks. Will is working class and would happily defenestrate anyone who dared besmirch the sanctity of Casey Affleck, yet he also displays a degree of rugged sensitivity, a “damaged” man waiting for the right Harvard hottie to hammer away at the impenetrable—but not too impenetrable—shell shrouding his heart. And did I mention he is a MENSA-shattering genius with a bowl cut?
Let’s face it, too—there’s no way that Skylar, aforementioned Harvard Hottie of the film, and Will end up together for more than, like, six months. That still seems like a really generous estimation to me; I think that Skylar would get the “ick” as soon as she saw the car that Will had driven to California for her in, because Skylar is rich as shit and can’t hide behind the congenial British sheen for long. But, of course, despite the borderline-obscene prominence of Mr. Smith throughout the film, no one ends up getting stabbed by the end. We are left with an ad-libbed Robin Williams one-liner to shed an errant tear to, as Will drives off to see about his girl. They will remain together until Will joins the CIA or goes too far at the next Little League rumble. And don’t even get me started on the “It’s not your fault” scene—let’s not even go there.
Despite all of my grievances with Good Will Hunting, though, which could easily serve as fodder for the most cutting Letterboxd reviews, this doesn’t change how I feel about the movie. I can’t help but laugh at the jokes I have heard like sixteen thousand times before. They don’t exactly grow funnier, but they don’t grow less funny, either. It is jokes like these that make up the constants of our lives, especially when they’re spat out second-nature by the ones we love.
It can be something of a knee-jerk reaction to label something as corny or insufferable if it’s not trying to cure cancer. This does not mean that the corniness accusations are unfounded; they do have their basis in observable reality and not Letterboxd la-la land at times. Some parts of Good Will Hunting do make me want to throw up, and in many ways, I like Boogie Nights a lot better. I do have my days where I think the movie should never have been made and that Matt Damon’s fingers should be cut off Banshees-style so he can never write again. But the potency of my feelings proves that Good Will Hunting is not just some innocuous thing to me. In his review of the film, old goat Roger Ebert said It's the individual moments, not the payoff, that make the movie so effective. The little moments, not the ending, are what makes Good Will Hunting my most rewatched movie of all time. In each moment, there is something new to experience each time, even if that’s seeing it make someone else laugh. We need those shareable movies to hold onto, lest we need a break from our growing, fleeting selves.