The Making of Good Will Hunting: "It Was Simple, It Was Honest, It Was Beautiful." Caragh Poh

You can’t grow up in New England without harboring equal parts jealousy and admiration for Boston Boys, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Their allure isn’t so much based on their fame, so much as it is from the way they found it. They didn’t come from money. There was no nepotism involved in their success. Affleck’s mother worked as a public school employee and teacher while his father held a myriad of jobs, including a mechanic and janitor with a stint as a director at the Theater Company of Boston. Damon’s mother was an early childhood education professor at Boston’s Leslie University. Somehow these middle-class young men found themselves the directors, writers and actors for one of the biggest films of the ’90s: Good Will Hunting.

Though they met at the same high school in Boston, Damon and Affleck went their separate ways post-graduation when Damon found himself at Harvard, and Affleck decided to move west to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Eventually the pair found themselves together again, with Damon sleeping on Affleck’s floor as they worked on the script Damon had started for a class in his fifth and final year at Harvard University: “There was this playwriting class and the culmination of it was to write a one-act play, and I just started writing a movie. So I handed the professor at the end of the semester a 40-some-odd-page document, and said, “Look, I might have failed your class, but it is the first act of something longer”.

That’s where the attainable fairytale comes into play. Damon handed in 40 pages of a script that didn’t meet the requirements of an undergraduate screen writing course, but he followed his passion and it changed his life forever. The account of this phenomenon was recently recanted by Damon, Affleck and the other major players involved in this time period of their lives in BostonMagazine.com, and it’s a must-read for any person who desires a job involving the creative written word. How delightful to know that a movie that earned 9 Academy Awards was written during drunken late nights that bled into even drunker early mornings. How delectable to know these writers were semi-ignorant to the trials not-yet-successful screenwriters will inevitably encounter while trying to find an agent for their script. How goddamned riveting to hear that these 20-somethings would look each of these problems square in the eye before kicking its ass and making the movie they wanted to make. How terrible to know that Kevin Smith read the entire script while on the toilet because he found it too riveting to stand up and clean himself before putting down the script. No one needed to know that, Kevin Smith. No one needed to picture you standing up gingerly to test whether or not your legs had fallen asleep to the point of complete numbness.

Though beloved by all, I don’t think Boston has ever claimed a movie as their own quite like it has this one. Have you ever noticed that when avid watcher of professional sports talk about their favorite sports team, they use “we”, as if they did something more than shovel nachos into their maw while swearing at a television? Boston has a funny way of co-opting that practice for anything and anyone that has come out of Massachusetts. Aerosmith is ours. It’s nearly a right of passage to run into Steven Tyler if you live anywhere near Boston. (I ran into him at a Target I used to buy my tampons from when I worked at a local mall. My co-worker groomed his German Shepherd. My other co-worker saw him hanging out at the Genius Bar in Apple for almost two hours. My boss rode in a motorcycle parade with him. My father saw him while they were both driving on the highway. Twice.) Conan O’Brien? He’s ours. The Kennedys? I think a very small percentage of Massachusians pray in the name of that family instead of a more traditional God. Denis Leary? Ours. Whitey Bulger? Ours, and we’re all secretly upset that he’s in jail. I swear Boston mourned the day Whitey was found. Secretly, of course, because of the whole “murder” thing.

What caught the city’s eye and roped it in wasn’t the accurate Boston accents that finally found its way into a major film or the local actors they used, it was because Matt and Ben captured the city and its people. You’ve never seen a city comprised of so many intellectuals and heavily accented bros who call those intellectuals “f***in’ queee-ahs” as you can find in Cambridge. They saw that, they took notice of it, and they used that to make a film that was “simple… honest… beautiful.”

The BostonMagazine profile of the movie dissects the film like a medical autopsy, filleting it down the middle and parsing the parts of the whole. Matt, Ben, Kevin Smith and Gus Van Sant show you the brains behind the film, the heart that drove them in this endeavor and the liver that filtered the toxic shit that almost got in the way.

Image via Shutterstock

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  1. Caragh, I just fell in love with you and this movie all over again! This Boston Magazine feature was so amazing. I re-watched Good Will Hunting for the first time in years a month or so ago and it is absolutely perfect. And, yes. I’m only getting my MA so I can teach at Bunker Hill CC like Robin Williams.

  2. I just watch Good Will Hunting for the first time a month ago, I loved it so much that I was frustrated and upset with myself that it took me this long to finally see it. I’m not from New England, but I’m a midwest girl that wishes she was. This was a great article, thank you!