Archive for May, 2016

It’s always interesting to me how people can relate to certain movies and characters based on where they are in their lives while seeing the movie for the first time. For instance, Magic Mike always harkens me back to my days as a male stripper. This is probably why some movies don’t settle well, because they are meant to appeal to a certain audience at a certain time, but when that audience moves out of that time, the movie just doesn’t hold up.

But some movies do stand the test of time, because they appeal to a wider audience. I’ve written before about how 40-year-old Matt Dursin relates to different characters, even in the same movie, than did 25-year-old Matt Dursin. I’m starting to sound like a big Scotch-drinker, but it’s true. (2017 note: I, in fact, am a big Scotch-drinker)

However, I have a little trouble placing Good Will Hunting. On the one hand, it’s a really ridiculous premise: a genius kid from Southie works as a janitor at M.I.T. and solves equations at night when no one is around. OK, I can swallow that enough. Unfortunately, genius kid meets a girl, and decides to throw away the prosperous future that is being laid out for him, and leave all his buddies in Boston, and drive his beater across the country to chase her, after knowing her for just a few weeks. Also, he lied his face off to her and treated her rather poorly, so why she would even have him once he got there is beyond me. That’s where 40-year-old Matt Dursin has a problem with it.

But, it was 22-year-old Matt Dursin who saw the movie for the first time, and he saw it while living in L.A. Yes, the most Boston movie ever made up to that point, and I was 3,000 miles away when I first saw it, so sue me for being nostalgic. I was spending my final semester out there, and it was very much up-in-the-air on whether or not I would even return to the East coast after graduation. I’m not going to go so far as to say that Good Will Hunting had any impact on my decision, but I will say that, like Good Will, I came back because I had to “go see about a girl.” The thing is that girl and I broke up four months later, which is probably what happened to Will and Minnie Driver, and probably what would happen to most people in this situation. Let’s face it, at 22, you’ve still got a whole lot of livin’ to do.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts about it settling, here’s the skinny on Good Will Hunting: Like I recounted above, Will is a super-intelligent janitor at M.I.T who finishes equations at night for fun. He catches the attention of Field’s Medal-Winner Professor Gerald Lambeau (otherwise known as Creepy Stellan Skarsgaard), who sees world-changing potential in him. The tiny hiccup in Lambeau’s plan is that Will is a bit of a loser. giphyHe hangs out with a bunch of other losers, including Chuckie, played by pre-sexual harassment Ben & Casey Affleck. During one of their pointless skirmishes with other Southie ne’er-do-wells, Will punches a cop in the face, and so is in some hot water with the fuzz. Lambeau gets the judge to go easy on him and turn him over to the professor, and in return, Will must go to counseling. I didn’t think college mathematics professors had that kind of sway in our judicial system, but there you go.

Enter: Robin Williams. After Will out-smarts several eminent psychiatrists by insulting their masculinity, Lambeau turns to his former roommate, Sean Maguire (another Southie boy), played by Robin Williams in an Oscar-winning role. Sean is supposed to give Will direction, preferably the direction that Lambeau wants. Will sandbags Maguire at first, as he did with all the other shrinks, but eventually they bond over Game 6 of the 1975 World Series and the fact that their father-figures weren’t very nice to them. Man, Southie sure was different then.

They also talk a lot about Will’s new lady-friend, Skylar, played by Minnie Driver. Skylar is a Harvard med student who is soon graduating and moving to San Fran to continue her education, so Will sees little point in pursuing anything serious. Widower Robin Williams tries to convince him that he should give love a chance, but really, I think I gotta side with Will on this one. Eventually, good ol’ Chuckie finally rips Will a new one about how he has a winning lottery ticket for a brain, and he needs to use it and blow this burg. (2017 Note: It’s funny that, on the 20 year anniversary, people are talking about what a Boston movie this was, when the ultimate resolution is Will deciding that he needs to get the Hell out. Very Springsteen.)

Like I said, the end result is that Will takes off for San Francisco to follow Skylar, leaving Sean, Chuckie, Lambeau and everyone who helped him and was willing to help him behind. We don’t really know if he got an amazing job out there, but maybe he moved to Silicon Valley and became CEO of some awesome internet start-up. Or he kept mopping floors. Who knows?

I think we’re supposed to believe that he left it all behind for a girl, which I was all for when I saw it at 22. I vividly remember a conversation I had with one of my fellow students out in L.A. when I was discussing my “Will-I-or-Won’t-I” plight. he said, “What good is the greatest job in the world if you’ve got no one to share it with?” At the time I thought that was just wonderful, so I thought, “You go, Will!” I also didn’t know as much about Hollywood endings. Did I mention Good Will Hunting won Best Screenplay that year?

Here’s the real clinker, though; Older and wiser (and grumpier) me thinks about this movie now and marvels at the scenes between Sean and Lambeau. Despite the fact that they paint Lambeau as a total jerk most of the time, he makes some good points. He has seen firsthand Will embarrass brilliant mathematicians, and knows what Will can offer the world. In comparing Will to Albert Einstein, he says, “Imagine if Einstein had given all that up to get drunk with his buddies?”  If you want to say that Lambeau is the villain in this movie, then there is the motivation that makes him an interesting and believable character. Certainly much more interesting than Skylar.

However, Sean Maguire, the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Will’s Luke, makes a similar comparison to another brilliant mathematician: The Una-Bomber. Sean’s point is that if they rush things and don’t let Will grow on his own and face his past, then he could become a looney who blows people up. It seems a little overly dramatic, but it could have been a cool plotline if they didn’t spend so much time on the dopey love story.

The other cool part about the scenes between Sean and Lambeau is the history they have. At one time, they were contemporaries, but Sean ended up counseling veterans and teaching at Bunker Hill Community College after, presumably, meeting his wife. The unattached Lambeau became a sort of rock star mathematician, if that’s even possible, winning what is described as the Nobel Prize for mathematics. So, they took different paths, and Lambeau thinks that Sean is trying to use Will to get back at him for being successful, and Sean thinks that Lambeau is using Will to belittle him for not being successful. In the climactic scene that probably was on the Oscar nomination tape, Sean tells Lambeau that he knows who he is, and is proud of what he does, and in my favorite line, puts him in his place when he says, “I knew you before your were Mathematical God, when you were pimple-faced and homesick and didn’t know what side of the bed to piss on.”

Naturally, 22-year-old Matt Dursin could not possibly understand that kind of dynamic, but 40-year-old one does all too well, as I’m sure a lot of people do, in their own way. However, like Sean, I am damn happy with the choices I have made. Living in L.A. and working in the office at a movie studio probably wouldn’t have worked out too well, but then, I didn’t exactly have it all laid out for me like Will did.  No regrets there. But I do sometimes wonder what became of my L.A. friend who fed me that brilliant “No one to share it with” line. Was he the Gerald Lambeau to my Sean Maguire? I will probably never know, because I actually don’t even remember his name.

Seeing that this was the Little Movie That Could, and pretty much launched the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, it is interesting to peel back the layers a little bit. However, in the end, it boils down to a cheesy love story. But there was another moment that probably helped Williams win that Oscar, and that’s not part of the overall love story, but it is a love story: the love between Bostonians and their beloved Red Sox.

As I mentioned earlier, Sean and Will bond over Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game etched in Boston sports lore, and sometimes called the greatest game of the greatest World Series ever played. That game climaxed when Carlton Fisk hit the game-winning home run off the foul pole in Fenway Park, wildly waving his hands as he left the batter’s box, willing the ball fair.

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You can’t write that stuff.

It’s hard to imagine it now, but in Boston before 2004, that was all the Red Sox really had as far as post-season history. And for it to be woven into the screenplay of a movie was pretty cool. Williams was recounting the story of the night to Will, saying that he and his friends had slept on the street to get tickets, but when Will asked him if he rushed the field, as the fans did in 1975, Sean said that he didn’t go to the game, because he saw a girl in the bar before and decided he had to “go see about a girl,” his future wife as it turned out. Will is understandably incredulous, but Sean tells him that he doesn’t regret anything, not the years spent counseling veterans, teaching at a community college, caring for his ailing wife, and he certainly doesn’t regret missing a baseball game. And he probably doesn’t regret not winning a Fields Medal.

That’s the real love story at work here; loving who you are. That’s why this movie, despite its flaws, does settle well, when you stop and think. It’s really about not living with regret and being happy with who you have become. No 22-year-old can understand that, yet.

Sam Mendes’ American Beauty was considered one of the “20 Most Overrated Movies of All-Time” by Premiere magazine. Which is out of business. Maybe if they were still around, they could take the advice of the film’s tagline and “look closer.”

I’ve seen other instances of people saying that this film is overrated, or undeserving of the Best Picture trophy it received. And that may be true. I mean, I think a lot of movies don’t deserve their Best Pic wins. Since those awards are largely political and are rarely based on the actual quality of the movie itself, let’s just throw all that out the window right now and look a little closer.

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We need to look no further than the logline give on IMDB: “A sexually frustrated suburban father has a mid-life crisis after becoming infatuated with his daughter’s best friend.”

That is absolutely, 100% not what this movie is about. Sure, that is what happens, but whoever wrote that line for IMDB must not have actually watched the movie. To say that Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham has a simple “mid-life crisis” is not doing the character justice at all. Sure, he buys an expensive car and lusts after a high school hottie, but the character is so much more formed than that. It can almost be described as spiritual awakening, rather than a mid-life crisis. (I don’t really like the idea of a mid-life crisis at 55, anyway. As Michael Caine once said, “Who lives to 110?”)

Lester is a regular, suburban guy with a teenage daughter, Jane, who hates him and a battle-ax wife, Carolyn (played by Annette Bening) who also kind of hates him because he doesn’t help her portray the typical American family unit. He is crapped on at his advertising job by younger execs, and his life is basically defined by a scene where he is dragged by his wife to see their cheerleader daughter perform at her high school basketball team’s half-time show. Lester’s reaction? “I’m missing the James Bond Marathon on TNT.”

However, during the performance, Lester sees Angela (Mena Suvari) for the first time. In a beautifully-shot sequence, Lester fantasizes that she is performing just for him in what basically amount amounts to a striptease, except when she opens her sweater, rose petals float out:

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It’s pretty awesome.

Anywho, this sets Lester off quite a bit, as after over-hearing Angela tell Jane that she likes dudes who are fit, he begins working out. Lester is further awakened when he is re-introduced to pot by the neighbor’s son, Ricky, and then he really starts to turn it around. Hey, it is a gateway drug!

Ricky and his family are an interesting lot. His father is a retired army Colonel, who seems to hate everything other than his son, especially gay people. After a gay couple that lives in the neighborhood welcome him with a gift basket, the Colonel wonders out loud to his son why “them faggots always gotta throw it in your face?” He also keeps close tabs on Ricky, who has been busted for selling and using drugs in the past. As I said, he clearly does love Ricky, but you can tell that he is more than a little disappointed that his son isn’t anything like him. Incidentally, Ricky’s mother, played amazingly understated by Alison Janney, is just weird.

Lester asks Ricky if he can buy some more weed from him, and Lester sees Ricky’s room for the first time, and he sees all the high-end technology that selling drugs can buy. Lester tells Ricky that when he was his age, he flipped burgers all summer to afford a stereo. When Ricky replies that that sucks, Lester responds with one of the great lines of the movie: “Actually it was great. All I did was party and get laid.”

This inspires Lester to quit his job, as he saw Ricky do the night before. Lester also screws his company out of three month’s salary by threatening a sexual harassment suit, and applies for a job at the local fast food joint. When he is told that they aren’t hiring managers only counter workers, he rattles off another one of my all-time favorite lines: “Good. I’m looking for the least possible amount of responsibility.” And let me say here that I don’t know if anyone other than Kevin Spacey could have delivered that line with such aplomb.

Lester’s marriage is also falling apart, if it was ever together to begin with. But it isn’t just him who is unsatisfied, as his wife begins sleeping with a fellow real estate tycoon, who also encourages her to go to a shooting range to pop off a few rounds when she gets stressed out. This brilliantly shows that there are two sides to an unhappy marriage, and they don’t just make Annette Bening’s character out to be some horrible shrew. She actually has feelings, too. Lesser screenwriters take note: All your characters matter.

However, it is still mainly Lester’s story, so when he catches his wife and her lover canoodling at his drive-thru, it leads to another moment of realization for him when he tells her, slowly and with conviction: “You don’t get to tell me what to do… ever again.” I think it’s something a lot of people wish for, and Lester has discovered it: control. This is another huge step towards his spiritual awakening. He’s not even really mad at her for cheating. In fact, he seems pretty pleased with himself over it.

Just as Lester’s total transformation is about to net him the object of his desire, Angela, he learns another truth: all her talk throughout the movie about the myriad sex she’s had is just bluster. She actually is a virgin. Even though she says she still wants to, this gives him pause. As crazy as he seemingly has gotten, he still does not want to be That Guy. There seems to be some discrepancy over this fact on the movie’s IMDB page. I’m not sure why, but one poster said something about Angela saying that she was a virgin so that Lester would enjoy it more because guys like having sex with virgins. It’s pretty obvious to me, due to her crying after he decides to not have sex with her, that she was making it all up just to feel superior to Jane, and probably everyone else. I am not sure why someone would jump to the whole Guys Like Virgins thing rather than just assume that a teenager was lying about their sex life, but hey, you go with whatever.

Instead of nookie, the two share a moment when he asks her if she thinks that his daughter is happy. When she tells him, “Yes,” he realizes what is really important in life. It’s not the shiny, red car he bought, or the muscles he put on (or the weed, presumably). He looks at a family vacation picture from long ago and realizes just how lucky he really is.

And then he is shot in the head! See, not too long before his big moment, his crazy Colonel neighbor came on to him, thinking that Lester was actually a homosexual (Lester had told him that his marriage was just a facade, and Colonel Fitts got a little confused.) After Lester politely rejected him, the Colonel felt humiliated and decided to go home and get his gun. He then blew Lester’s head off to prevent his secret from getting out. Or for revenge. or because he was just crazy. It’s really another interesting layer to a character who was seemingly just a giant bigot, but in actuality an anguished closet homosexual.

The best part, though? Lester died smiling.

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I could write all day about the themes of this movie, about the red-on-white color scheme, the Lolita references, the meaning of the blowing plastic bag, etc. But what I really wanted to focus on was what was really going on with this guy. To me, Lester isn’t experiencing a mid-life crisis, and he isn’t lusting after Angela in some sort of Lolita-like way, and he wasn’t just some pothead. He’s simply feeling the Weight of Responsibility that a lot of people feel at some point in their lives. This was how he decided to deal with it.  Peter Gibbons from Office Space chose to deal with it a different way, but we all kind of have to deal with it somehow. There are different responsibilities, of course; financial, family, just generally fitting in to society. But we all have them, and if, like Lester, your job and your marriage suck, well then you quit them and move on. If you want to call that a mid-life crisis, then that’s your call. I prefer to agree with Lester himself. After his soon-to-be ex-boss calls him sick, he replies, “Nope. I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.”

In the end, he realized that he did have his family to lose, but at the time he said, it was total truth, and not the words of someone going through a mid-life crisis. this guy knew what he wanted, and got it.