Magazine article The Spectator

Peculiar Genius

Magazine article The Spectator

Peculiar Genius

Article excerpt

There's a North American radio commercial for some sort of amazing DIY `literacy' course which begins: `How would you like to read an entire novel in your lunch hour?' Personally, I can't think of anything worse -- unless, of course, I was The Spectator's chief fiction reviewer and wanted to dispatch a couple of butt-numbers before bunking off early. Nevertheless, in Good Will Hunting, the eponymous Will, a genius, demonstrates said genius by memorising a book simply by turning the pages and regurgitating a lot of information at extremely fast speed. This is, needless to say, Hollywood's idea of genius: there isn't a producer in town who wouldn't love a kid in the outer office who could read an entire novel over lunch and then pitch it in eight seconds. No more 'I just read half of it all the way through,' as Louis B. Mayer once told a writer.

The writers of Good Will Hunting are, in fact, actors - Matt Damon, who appears in The Rainmaker, and Ben Affleck, who turned in a very dreary performance in the recent boy-meets-lesbian romance Chasing Amy. That said, they have their own peculiar genius: the script started out as an action thriller about a race against time to avert mass destruction; then, at Rob Reiner's suggestion, the boys converted it into an all-talk-and-no-action touchy-feely cockle-warmer about male bonding. The rewrite trembles on the brink of a dysfunction-ofthe-week television movie but never quite nose-dives in, thanks mainly to Gus Van Sant's direction and two blow-job jokes.

Will, played by Matt, is now a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, loitering with his mop and pail by the blackboard and anonymously solving the most complicated mathematical theorems, like:

Actually, that one isn't too difficult, as it represents the precise formula for a Hollywood flop, where zzz=Kevin Costner, ?= Demi Moore's breast implants and sec=the differential between a film directed by Quentin Tarantino and a film with a cameo by Quentin Tarantino. Good Will Hunting avoids most of those pitfalls, but not quite all. Its trump card is Damon, who struts through the film with the cockiness of a good-looking serial killer. He's not very plausible as a genius, but then he's not very plausible as a janitor either, so it all evens out. What he has is a breezy intensity and the same kind of bantam rooster quality as the young Cagney, albeit gussied up and airbrushed, as is the Nineties' wont. …

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