Good Will Hunting directed by Gus Van Sant

Bibliographic Information: Van Sant, G. (director). 1997. Good Will Hunting (DVD). Santa Monica, CA: Miramax Films.  ASIN: 0788814664.  126 minutes. Movie Rating: R.

Plot Summary: Will Hunting, a young adult from the hardscrabble streets of South Boston, prefers street fights and drinking with his buddies to developing his semi-hidden genius.  From economics to mathematics, Will stuns snobby Harvard and MIT students at local bars who look down on him and his friends for their social status, although he meets a Harvard student who gives him her number.  Will works at MIT, as a janitor, and, while cleaning one evening, is drawn to a proof posted on a chalkboard in the hallway.  He solves the proof correctly and anonymously, and so ensues a search for the “student” who award-winning MIT mathematics professor, Gerald Lambeau, wants to praise.  After an arrest in a street fight, Will is bailed out by Lambeau who has taken note of Will’s innate math talents and wants to become his mentor.  The conditions of Will’s bail include being under Lambeau’s supervision and attending therapy, an idea Will openly laughs at, but agrees to in order to avoid further incarceration.

Critical Evaluation: Good Will Hunting is a great young adult movie.  It takes the common themes of love, friendship, and overcoming adversity and weaves them into a compelling, interesting, and moving story.  The main characters are three dimensional with strengths and flaws and, above all else, resilience.  The acting in the film is high quality, with particularly believable roles by Matt Damon playing Will and Robin Williams playing his therapist, Sean Maguire.  Will’s relationships are complicated by his troubled past, but his friends are always there for him.  His love interest, awealthy Harvard student, tries to understand who he is and where he is coming from, though he is not at all forthcoming about himself., and, in fact, lies about his past.  Those who do not care for curse words may bristle at times, but the language feels realistic, not gratuitous.  This movie deals with heavy topics with grace and beauty.  Viewers will hope for Will to triumph over all the troubles life has handed him.

Good Will Hunting was highly praised and honored.  A the 1998 Academy Awards, the movie was nominated for nine awards and won two: Robin Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and Ben Affleck and Matt Damon won the Oscar for Best Writing (Original Screenplay).  The screenplay also won the 1998 Golden Globe award, out of four Golden Globe nominations.

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: Troubled young man, Will Hunting, works as a janitor at MIT. When his math skills seem to exceed those of any of the MIT students, Will’s life take a turn that could bring him far away from his South Boston roots, but does he want to go?

Information about the Author/Director: Gus Van Sant is an award-winning director who has directed highly acclaimed films. A sampling of his films include: Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Finding Forrester, Elephant, Paranoid Park, and Milk.  His most recent film, Restless, was released in September 2011.

Genres: Drama

Curriculum Ties: Discussion of class, emotional problems, abuse, overcoming obstacles

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 to 25

Challenge Issues: Sexuality, Language, Violence, Drinking.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? I loved it when it came out and I was a teen, and it was just as good watching it today.