What Is Middlebrow?
September 22, 2011 4:21 PM   Subscribe

Dorothy Gambrell of Cat And Girl fame spends an awful lot of time talking about education, class, debt, money, and the hollow promise of aspirational media to discuss how much she hates Good Will Hunting
posted by The Whelk (108 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is true love compared to how I feel about Forrest Gump.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:30 PM on September 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Eh. I still like Good Will Hunting.
posted by limeonaire at 4:38 PM on September 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


It's not your fault.
posted by cazoo at 4:40 PM on September 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


I never can remember. In Good Will Hunting, does Matt Damon win a bunch of money at poker because he's a genius and can count cards or is that a different Matt Damon-as-genius movie?
posted by perhapses at 4:41 PM on September 22, 2011


Dorothy Gambrell is great, but help me out with the website. After five minutes wandering around it, I still couldn't figure out if it was a fan site or a parody. Am I dense or is the irony too subtle?
posted by BinGregory at 4:50 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I dense or is the irony too subtle?

No.
posted by valkyryn at 4:51 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I never can remember. In Good Will Hunting, does Matt Damon win a bunch of money at poker because he's a genius and can count cards or is that a different Matt Damon-as-genius movie?

No, this is the one in which Robin Williams acts his ass off and is rewarded with an Oscar.
posted by UseyurBrain at 4:52 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Sequel.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:55 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I never can remember. In Good Will Hunting, does Matt Damon win a bunch of money at poker because he's a genius and can count cards or is that a different Matt Damon-as-genius movie?

I think you're thinking of Moon?
posted by Greg Nog at 4:59 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I still don't get why she doesn't like it. Because the movie is true to the time in which it was filmed, and hence failed to predict the future accurately? Because of some inarticulately expressed problem she had with the "aesthetics" she learned in college?

Speaking as someone who was raised and educated 4th grade to college graduation, in the Boston area, whose mom was a Radcliffe alum, and whose home town was a lace curtain Irish community to which people from Southie sometimes graduated, I liked the movie a lot. Aside from getting the Boston accents right, usually a challenge for moviemakers, I liked the film's keen understanding of how important class distinctions are in the Boston area, and how much class is tied to education there too. (When I was in school, we joked somewhat bitterly that in NYC people figured out how worthy of respect you were by asking, "What do you do?" -- code for how much mone do you make -- while in Boston people asked "Where did you go to school?"). I also thought Damon's character was a touching and compelling one. Genius is a burden, and it would be even more of one with for someone from an emotionally starved childhood.
posted by bearwife at 5:01 PM on September 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


Meh, I had some problems with GWH (for someone so good at math, he doesn't seem to care about it so much), but I find something implicit in her worldview annoying. Can't place it exactly because it's implicit.

That people now can't aspire to both a meaningful and economically sustainable life is the fault of that aspiration? Or the whole meaningful thing was always a put-on for show, in the middlebrow conception?

One '90s art film that's aged at the least rather confusingly is American Beauty. Guy leaves a white colllar job on purpose to flip burgers 'cause he's experimenting with a new way of life? Now that looks terribly indulgent.

But I think the de-valuation of intellectual and artistic pursuit is because of those who HAVE gotten ahead without them--those who have gamed the system, or simply excelled where such didn't matter. They are remaking society in their crass image.
posted by Schmucko at 5:02 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kind of hard to get upset about GWH. It's straight-up privileged nerd fantasy strokeoff material, nothing more or less. Like The Social Network but less willing to pillory its protagonist.

Will as portrayed is far more intelligent than the straight-A overachievers who are meant to be identifying with him, his trauma is far more agonizing than the petty suburban physical abuse heaped on said fans by their insipid parents and cretinous oversized peers. His girlfriend is hotter and more interesting (or just existent), his friends funnier, his comebacks wittier, and his blue collar grit is legitimately earned. He is capable of actually beating someone up and inverting the persecution dynamic once in a while.

His therapist isn't silently counting the seconds until each session ends.

He's what every middle-class high school kid with an SAT score over 1300 wants to be, but never will.

Or maybe I'm underestimating the audience - I thought the implied comparison was kind of ridiculous when A Teacher Who Thought I Was Special took me to see it, so I have to assume I wasn't particularly special in that regard.
posted by Ryvar at 5:04 PM on September 22, 2011 [26 favorites]


Is it Ghostbusters 2?
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:04 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


His girlfriend is hotter and more interesting (or just existent)'s head is larger
posted by nathancaswell at 5:05 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


PS good will hunting is a great movie
posted by nathancaswell at 5:05 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, the movie where Matt Damon plays a super duper poker player is Rounders.
posted by bearwife at 5:05 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or maybe I'm underestimating the audience - I thought the implied comparison was kind of ridiculous when A Teacher Who Thought I Was Special took me to see it, so I have to assume I wasn't particularly special in that regard.

What, you didn't identify with snobby ponytail guy?
posted by grobstein at 5:06 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


A movie that tells you you’re smart is a movie that appeals to people who want to be smarter, an audience that spends even its leisure time aspirationally.

A movie that tells you you're smart? The movie doesn't tell you you're anything.

Whatever's troubling her, it's awkward to read her taking it on a movie that has nothing to do with it.
posted by Anything at 5:09 PM on September 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


i came back from washing dishes to ammend my earlier comment... good will hunting is a good movie, not a great movie. is it a ken loach movie starring peter mullen or something? no. but it's not trying to be
posted by nathancaswell at 5:10 PM on September 22, 2011


grobstein: no, I'm the second laziest caricature to hit the silver screen.
posted by Ryvar at 5:11 PM on September 22, 2011


GWH has an example of something a lot of movies had in the 90s, the slow motion fight scene with slightly odd music.

here is the scene. As the first punch is thrown we are treated to Baker Street. Why baker street? Who the fuck knows. Yeah, this is a Spanish dub, but Baker Street remains intact, which makes it all the more awesome.

Tons of movies had this same scene, I blame Goodfellas.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:13 PM on September 22, 2011


This blog is partly run by one of my best friend's brothers, and as far as I know it is not ironic. They're from the Boston area, and just legitimately love the movie.
posted by papayaninja at 5:14 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aw, Good Will Hunting is all right, isn't it? Sometimes middle is a perfectly adequate height for one's brow.

I like that she's given it this much thought, and I don't pretend not to enjoy having my consciousness raised by well-reasoned analyses like this. But is it really all that helpful to be always seeing through accepted systems to the 'real truth'? I bet plenty of 13th-century peasants saw right through the hollow promise of feudalism. They just couldn't blog about it. False meritocracy? Yeah, of course. Now, do you expect it to change just because you've noticed?
posted by Soulfather at 5:14 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Dorothy Gambrell is an air raid siren of class anxiety. This is why I've never been able to make myself like class and girl. Er, cat and girl.
posted by fleetmouse at 5:19 PM on September 22, 2011 [37 favorites]


But is it really all that helpful to be always seeing through accepted systems to the 'real truth'?

No, but it's tops if what you're after is intellectual masturbation and ego-stroking.

I don't know Dorothy Gambrell from Eve, but I have read most of Cat and Girl and, well... it's kind of her schtick, you know?
posted by Ryvar at 5:19 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"air raid siren of class anxiety"

fleetmouse wins the thread! We can all go home now.
posted by Ryvar at 5:21 PM on September 22, 2011


Post-Fussell.
posted by box at 5:26 PM on September 22, 2011


So I read the blog post, then looked at Cat and Girl, I was expecting that comic with the cute little cat that is always doing things like reaching under the refrigerator and pulling out a ski, but I wasn't, it was a cat calling a bird a bum. What is that comic with the cute cat, I wonder what that guy thinks of Good Will Hunting.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:31 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand what her complaint was or currently is with GWH. I thought this movie was about a kid who was afraid to betray the values of his upbringing by buying into a class/culture that had values which conflicted. Hard work, real intelligence vs. entitlement and privileged education (street smarts vs. books smarts)? Am I missing something?
posted by hellslinger at 5:34 PM on September 22, 2011


Simon's cat?
posted by Anything at 5:34 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually really hate GWH for two completely separate reasons. One: the fact that it took a screenplay Oscar home doesn't bother me outright, because while the script is fairly generic it's at least serviceable, but the fact that it beat out Boogie Nights for that Oscar pisses me off. Of all the bizarre Oscar calls over the years, that's the one that's most infuriating to me. Boogie Nights gets more impressive every time I see it while GWH is never any less average.

But what I really hate about GWH is the premise. Everyone assumes Will is wasting his life because he's not doing math - but he doesn't seem to care about math. So how is doing one thing he doesn't care about instead of another thing he doesn't care about wasting his life? The last three bosses I've had have all independently asked me in the first few days after I met them why I'm working my current repetitive office job since I'm obviously smarter than the average rat in our little cubicle farm. The answer is simple: I find working with my brain on stuff I don't care about annoying. Where I am now not only pays the rent and allows me enough spending cash to be comfortable, but more importantly, I get to have an ipod and there are enough high quality comedy podcasts out there that I can spend a good chunk of my day laughing. I enjoy spending most of my day laughing. If I was at a job that required my full attention, I probably would not be laughing all day because I couldn't pay attention to people talking about wookie peyote (which was the last thing I laughed out loud about at work, from a Comedy Bang Bang episode where the Cake Boss was talking to the ghost of Chewbacca.) I still get flack from people from time to time about how I'm wasting my potential, but potential is bullshit. Will Hunting does an honest job that has to be done, and if it's what he wants to do, then fuck it, let him do it. It's his life. And if he's not happy being a janitor, then he shouldn't be a janitor. But that doesn't mean he has to start being someone else just because you tell him to. It's not like being a grad student suddenly makes all your problems disappear and you're at one with the universe because you're doing what you "were supposed to". There are a lot of grad students that find that to be bullshit, too.

I feel about that film the way prostitutes probably feel about Pretty Woman.
posted by Kiablokirk at 5:34 PM on September 22, 2011 [82 favorites]


I guess she really didn't like them apples.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:36 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


But what I really hate about GWH is the premise. Everyone assumes Will is wasting his life because he's not doing math - but he doesn't seem to care about math.

It's been a while since I've seen the film but my vaguely recalled impression is that he does indeed care about math along with a bunch of other areas but he's conflicted about pursuing an education because that's something he couldn't share with any of his old friends.
posted by Anything at 5:42 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]



I love good will hunting. It's the movie that convinced me to go to college.

I found Matt Damon's character totally relate-able. Largely, it was because the character mimicked my own difficulties - smart, but anxious, under-achiever unwilling to leave the comfort zone of a lower/working class existence because of lack of knowledge on how to get from there to anywhere else and boatload of anxiety about whether it is even worth it to try.

And partly because it echoed my own distrust of success - what good is success if it means I have to be like those people ? Class boundaries exist and all my friends are on one side...


I thought Baker Street was a great song for that fight scene :

Then he'll settle down in a quiet little town and forget about everything. But you know he's gonna keep moving, you know he's never gonna stop moving...

Will loves the brawling and the drinking and carousing. It's all he's ever known and he's unable/unwilling to leave it even though he could at will. Unlike his friends, he's got assets he can exploit to his advantage but can't because he doesn't know how, and won't because he's afraid.

posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:43 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have fondness for Good Will Hunting because I saw it when I was living in Seattle and a little homesick for Boston and MIT. (I grew up outside of Boston and spent part of my misspent youth hanging around MIT)
posted by rmd1023 at 5:50 PM on September 22, 2011


Smart people who grow up in blue collar neighborhoods spend a lot of time trying to hide the fact that they are smart. Even wearing glasses is suspect. There are people who I grew up with who still tease me because one day a teacher went around the class and asked everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up, I said "a scientist". 30 years later there are still people who call me "The Scientist"
posted by Ad hominem at 5:53 PM on September 22, 2011 [17 favorites]


GWH has one of my all time favorite movie lines. It is cheesy as hell in the movie, but it has fun applications in real life:

Because fuck him, that's why.

I highly recommend that you try to use this little gem at least once every day.

Because fuck him, that's why.

Seriously, IRFH? Why would you recommend that?

Because fuck him, that's why.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:54 PM on September 22, 2011 [21 favorites]


Because fuck him, that's why.

And just like that, I have a new working title for my dissertation.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:03 PM on September 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Good Will Hunting was insincere. Good Will Hunting was 126 minutes of Gus Van Sant encouraging his audience to congratulate themselves and then mocking them when they did so – with a sly wink at those of us cultured enough to “get it.”

Can someone explain this? I've never seen GWH because it seemed like it was going to be a heartwarming inspirational tale about a misunderstood genius.... is something else going on?
posted by ennui.bz at 6:04 PM on September 22, 2011


I walked into my friends apartment when they were in the middle of watching Good Will Hunting.

It was the beginning of Robin Williams' soliloquy, sitting on the park bench.

"Thought about what you said to me the other day, about my painting. Stayed up half the night thinking about it. Something occurred to me... fell into a deep peaceful sleep, and haven't thought about you since. Do you know what occurred to me?"

posted by ovvl at 6:43 PM on September 22, 2011


I bet plenty of 13th-century peasants saw right through the hollow promise of feudalism. They just couldn't blog about it.

Au contraire. The British Library has a manuscript in its collection entitled Looke ye upon thys swyving hypstere.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:43 PM on September 22, 2011 [34 favorites]


Can someone explain this? I've never seen GWH because it seemed like it was going to be a heartwarming inspirational tale about a misunderstood genius.... is something else going on?

nope. this critique of GWH is carrying some baggage into the movie that simply doesn't belong.
posted by billyfleetwood at 6:46 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The living room was reserved for guests we never had, and the Christmas tree. Middlebrow.

Unused living rooms and Christmas trees are middlebrow?
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:57 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Middlebrow is my favorite Hipster beer.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:06 PM on September 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's my favorite creative facial hair.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:16 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I actually really liked this essay, but I think--suspect, at least--that it's because I come from a similar background, bought the aspirational myth, then realized it's really not an escape. I think what she's saying is that, with the distance of time, and with experience, you realize that the story is false. In some ways, you can't ever transcend class boundaries. And by trying, you only drive a wedge between yourself and the people you maybe shouldn't have been in such a hurry to run away from. But they want to believe it--they believe in the myth of GWH--and so you don't really say anything. Who wants to be That Guy, you know?

She's being That Guy here. It's a little insufferable. It doesn't mean she might not have a bit of a point, I think.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:18 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have absolutely no idea what the criticism in that article is supposed to be. As a Cat and Girl fan, the gap between my expectations for what that article would be and the result is vast and mystifying.
posted by Kwine at 7:22 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


The baggage that Gambrell is carrying into GWH is encapsulated in that bit about the living room. Lots of middle class families have or had a room like that, one that's a vestige of upper-class aspirations like an appendix, one where you put your best face forward for visitors, but you don't have visitors because nowadays everyone either meets in social events on the outside or, if people come over, they go out in the backyard for a cookout or watch TV in the family room. The implicit and explicit comparison is with movies like The English Patient, which are like the living room--a little dusty, definitely underused, but the mere presence of which are supposed to justify playing with the XBox and watching Ghostbusters in your jammies.

A lot of the resentment against middlebrow seems to come from people with academic backgrounds in culture studies, who want you to stop listening to NPR and ticking off movies on the Oscar list and just admit that you're into stuff that features lots of explosions and tits. They're of a piece with just about anyone that hates the dilettante, little different in their own way from the group of hardcore D&D gamers that wants you to join another group because you haven't memorized the 3.5 rules. I've always suspected that there's a rich vein of self-loathing buried beneath the sneer; Gambrell seems to not mind the movie so much any more due to the schadenfreude of the snotty grad student thinking that he's going to have ski vacations on what will turn out to be an adjunct's salary. I never thought of GWH as a middlebrow movie--it's less Jude than Jude the Obscure with a happy ending--but someone's personal pet peeve is less rational the more that they try to rationalize it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:33 PM on September 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


People have both a living room and a family room?
posted by Ad hominem at 7:39 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have a living room in my family room.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:48 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


People have both a living room and a family room?

It's really common some places. It is here (Texas) and maybe the whole south. Our first house had one and I hated it, a little room right off the front entrance too small and out of the way to really use for anything. We had to insist when we bought this house that we'd have no such thing - we had to turn down lots of nice houses because of it. Lots of people use them as children's play rooms these days but they used to have the nice furniture in them and kids were never allowed to go in there.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:49 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The class schtick of Good Will Hunting did not bother me, and I have personally many of the same problems the movie portrayed. I was born low and now am functioning middle and I never fit in when I was in school because I never had any money to buy weed or go to clubs or take trips &c. I actually kind of related to that part of the movie.

The problem I had was the acceptance of the Freudian(?) therapy premise that once you know and understand the facts underlying your trauma you automatically can get better. The most comparably fucked up movie in this regard was Prince of Tides, but it really is a trope even if it ain't on the tropes website.

You make a movie like that when you do not have a clue.

Sometimes getting to the bottom of things helps and many other times getting to the bottom of things don't do shit. People who make movies like Good Will Hunting are ignorant of this fact of real life.
posted by bukvich at 8:20 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Good Will Hunting was the Breaking Away of its generation. No, they are not the same movie, but they both capture the prevailing student self-image, and by doing that, frame their anxieties and delusions by what's expected from them.
posted by Brian B. at 8:27 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we get a ruling on Finding Forrester now?
posted by Ad hominem at 8:44 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's one of those park-in-the-driveway-and-drive-on-the-parkway things that what we called the "living room" was used for very little living by the family that lived there--it was meant almost exclusively for receiving visitors and conversing with them. (Other people might call it the sitting room or, if your pinky was way up in the air when you drank your tea, the reception room.) If your family had antiques, that's where they had them (or the best ones); ditto for art. You might have a sound system there for a little background music while you talked, and some books in nice bookcases (not your trashy romances and SFF paperbacks), but no TV, period. That was for the family room, where your family actually did most of their living.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:45 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Even some of the poorer residents of New York have a formal room nobody uses. What happens in that case is people hang out in a kitchen or bedroom. I have seen some nice apartments but I've never seen one with a living room and a family room. But lo and behold I found a plan for a recently constructed apartment with both a living room and a family room. It was priced at a measly 11m

I gotta move.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:16 PM on September 22, 2011


That was totally a Hungarian dub, not a Spanish one.
posted by Earthtopus at 9:30 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


You sure? I got an ear for languages.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:34 PM on September 22, 2011


Good Will Hunting was the first movie I ever saw that directly addressed child abuse. Sure, Will is smarter, wittier, maybe more handsome, maybe handier in a fight than his buddies. Maybe he's a Larry Stu. But, you know, he got the shit beaten out of him. It didn't matter whether he was smart or funny or good-looking. He got fucked up, and it didn't just go away, and his intelligence didn't matter one bit. Math didn't help him. His friends helped him. No wonder he wouldn't want to leave them.

So, yeah, that whole "it's not your fault" scene is kind of trite and shallow and easy. But fuck it. Sometimes a kid needs to hear that it isn't his fault, and maybe Good Will Hunting is the first time anyone's ever said that to him. So I like that movie, a lot.

Plus, the accents make me homesick.
posted by Errant at 9:40 PM on September 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Yeah I have a problem with the therapy-instant-cure thing. (The TV Trope seems to be Single Issue Psychology. Epiphany Therapy may also apply.)
posted by gubo at 9:43 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know that everyone who does this unironically is a pain, but Jesus Christ I can't help myself:

Metafilter: do you expect it to change just because you've noticed?
posted by Theodore Sign at 9:55 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyhoo, GWH is a good film but it is annoying cause Will is a "Hollywood" smart person, just like he undergoes "Hollywood" therapy. That is, both are good for cool moments where you see into the core of the world/yourself and reveal it to everyone with a smirk or heartfelt look. Movies have a hard time selling smart as interesting, since being really smart is hard to communicate easily with cool visuals.

Basically, what you are left with is a kind of sexy clever/smooth. Intellectual slight-of-hand. See also Limitless and Sherlock Holmes.
posted by Theodore Sign at 10:02 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone assumes Will is wasting his life because he's not doing math - but he doesn't seem to care about math. So how is doing one thing he doesn't care about instead of another thing he doesn't care about wasting his life?

Exactly. This is something that bothered me, too. Imagine, if you will, that Will is black. This movie would be incredibly patronizing. "Hey, Will! You can be something other than a Southie! black!"

I keep mentioning it, but few films from Hollywood seem to have any real understanding of poor and/or undereducated people, at least if they're American. (One recent exception, notable for its rarity: Winter's Bone.) Nobody takes five minutes to think through Maslow's hierarchy of needs for their characters.
posted by dhartung at 10:25 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Because fuck him, that's why.

Isn't this basically just stolen from Alec Baldwin's scene in Glengarry Glen Ross?
posted by adamdschneider at 10:33 PM on September 22, 2011


I have a problem: I really can't hear puns at all. This means when I come across something that sounds like a pun, it sticks in my head and bothers me.

For years, whenever I hear the movie's title, I have had to go through a list of the different possible ways you're supposed to hear it. Does it refer to someone hunting for a good will? Does it refer to Will Hunting, who is good? Does it refer to hunting for Will, who is good?

I'm pretty sure it's supposed to mean some mixture of all of those (but most notably, the "Will Hunting is good" one). But, man, I hate that title.

I like the movie, though.
posted by meese at 11:11 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kind of hard to get upset about GWH. It's straight-up privileged nerd fantasy strokeoff material, nothing more or less.

So it's Ender's Game?
posted by speicus at 11:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Exactly.
posted by Ryvar at 12:10 AM on September 23, 2011


"There is also this bear of an essay blog post about how much I hated the movie Good Will Hunting when I saw it about fourteen years ago."
FTFH
posted by dabitch at 1:24 AM on September 23, 2011


I'm pretty sure it's supposed to mean some mixture of all of those (but most notably, the "Will Hunting is good" one). But, man, I hate that title.

I like the movie, though.


Poems must be...problematic...for ya.
posted by Theodore Sign at 1:40 AM on September 23, 2011


Will Hunting does an honest job that has to be done, and if it's what he wants to do, then fuck it, let him do it. It's his life. And if he's not happy being a janitor, then he shouldn't be a janitor. But that doesn't mean he has to start being someone else just because you tell him to.

While I completely agree here--paging Mike Rowe!--but I always had the impression that Will doesn't actually want to be a janitor and is kind of pissed off that he is one.
posted by valkyryn at 2:29 AM on September 23, 2011


"Hollywood" smart person

Okay, massive tangent here, but this is one of those things that always bugged me about CSI. Grissom is very patently a character written to be smart by people who think they know what geniuses are like, but haven't ever actually met one.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:50 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also William Petersen's hair is WEIRD and STUPID and I think he might be part SHEEP.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:51 AM on September 23, 2011


Cat and Girl is shit
Everyone hates a tourist
Good Will Hunting is a parody.

Because fuck her, that's why.
posted by fullerine at 3:41 AM on September 23, 2011


Dorothy Gambrell is an air raid siren of class anxiety.

Thank you; now I understand why I never understand Cat and Girl.
posted by fleacircus at 3:55 AM on September 23, 2011


Can we get a ruling on Finding Forrester now?

That movie misled a generation of youth to believe that they were, in fact, the man, now, dog. The realities of the decline of the middle class and the global economic downturn mean that nobody is, or will be the man, now, dog, perhaps for another 25 years.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 4:57 AM on September 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


@overeducated_alligator - You are, in fact, not the man, now, dog...
posted by kuanes at 5:25 AM on September 23, 2011


Can we get a ruling on Finding Forrester now?

That movie misled a generation of youth to believe that they were, in fact, the man, now, dog. The realities of the decline of the middle class and the global economic downturn mean that nobody is, or will be the man, now, dog, perhaps for another 25 years.


Hmmm...Quite possibly. But I think it's more likely that Finding Forrester was Gus Van Sant's attempt to make at least one movie that it would actually make sense to advertise with the words "From the Director of Good Will Hunting."

I mean Elephant? Gerry? Paranoid Park? Hell, My Own Private Idaho?

"Hey! Keanu! Keanu's in this movie! And it says right here on the DVD: 'From the Director of Good Will Hunting.' Sweet!"
posted by eric1halfb at 5:51 AM on September 23, 2011


The meaning of a movie or other product of art and/or entertainment will change depending on who views it, from what context, and how they try to analyze it. This is a basic fact about the way we interact with art and/or entertainment. Things don't mean things, people do.

It would appear that Dorothy Gambrell knows and accepts this fact, and wrote an essay about why she hates Good Will Hunting that doesn't say much about Good Will Hunting. She uses various examples of things that happened in the movie to illustrate why she hates it, and doesn't really say anything at all about how good the writing is, or how believable the characters are, or any of the other stuff you expect to find in a film review.

I think a lot of people here were expecting a film review.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:57 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I keep mentioning it, but few films from Hollywood seem to have any real understanding of poor and/or undereducated people, at least if they're American. (One recent exception, notable for its rarity: Winter's Bone.)

No kidding. Actually, Winter's Bone is a great comparison film to GWH in terms of portrayals of class and poverty; it's not a comparison that makes GWH look anything except cheesy.

And maybe that's the same as calling it "middlebrow," I don't know. There was a recent piece in the New Yorker, I think, about middlebrow (yes, yes, I can hear the irony phone ringing, too). Especially in economically difficult times like now, I think people can get kind of sensitive about those distinctions.
posted by Forktine at 6:10 AM on September 23, 2011


Exactly. This is something that bothered me, too. Imagine, if you will, that Will is black. This movie would be incredibly patronizing. "Hey, Will! You can be something other than a Southie! black!"

Someone was asking about a ruling on Finding Forrester?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:11 AM on September 23, 2011


Kiablokirk: "I feel about that film the way prostitutes probably feel about Pretty Woman."

This is where you lost me.

Pretty Woman does suck, though.
posted by I am the Walrus at 6:15 AM on September 23, 2011


ennui.bz: "Can someone explain this? I've never seen GWH because it seemed like it was going to be a heartwarming inspirational tale about a misunderstood genius.... is something else going on?"

Sure.

The movie is a tale of a working class kid, who does construction and is also a janitor at MIT. He also happens to be a savant at math, and is caught doing a hard problem on one of the school whiteboards.

The professor that caught him takes the kid under his wing, sends him to therapy, and tries to get him to stop screwing around (drinking, fighting, etc.). The kid falls in love, matches wits with some bluebloods and wins the girl. In the end, the kid runs away with the girl to go be happy and successful and fabulously rich.

The movie sends the message that if you are smart and work hard, you'll get ahead, and you can beat those other kids who aren't as smart, even if they have more money and better resources. The working class kid with smarts can beat the Harvard types. That's the "encouraging his audience to congratulate themselves" part.

But in reality, this isn't true. Harvard is much more than an education. It creates connections, provides a certain status, and opens doors that are locked to people without Ivy League degrees on their resume. The people that go there come from money, and that money opens doors that are locked to people without it. Look at George W. Bush. He was elected President based on his family and his connections. So even if you are smarter than the Harvard types, that doesn't mean you'll be more successful, because they still have so many advantages over you. This is the "sly wink at those of us cultured enough to 'get it.' "
posted by I am the Walrus at 6:29 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


The movie sends the message that if you are smart and work hard, you'll get ahead, and you can beat those other kids who aren't as smart, even if they have more money and better resources.

I don't think the film is sending that message at all. Will is not just smart; in fact the film pretty much beats you over the head with the message that he is an exceptional fucking genius. That's not the sort of material you use for building a generic social mobility / work ethic narrative.
posted by Anything at 7:13 AM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Good Will Hunting is the myth of the self-correcting meritocracy written by two guys who went to fancy colleges and had some personal interest in the continued relevance of that meritocracy’s institutions.

I wish so much that she'd gone into this more, because it's something that I think could be really interesting. I'm not really sure I understand the rest of the paragraph it comes with--what aesthetics she's leaving behind and what new aesthetics she found--but I feel like this makes a lot more sense than a lot of the things in the essay.

When I was in college, which was fairly recently, I felt like there was a consistent desire to legitimize oneself through this sort of story of humble beginnings or systemic oppression. If you were on the left, it tended to be straightforwardly race/sex/class-based; if you were on the right, it usually had something to do with reverse racism/political correctness/liberal bias.

If you were of a certain persuasion, recognizing the struggles that you had getting into or through college led you down a road that questioned the legitimacy of academia itself, whether you thought it existed to reify some kind of existing structural inequality or was a useless ivory tower that didn't represent the real America or real economy. You ended up as part of a general anti-(established) intellectual movement that could be either very high- or very low-brow depending on how you ended up in it.

But sometimes you had too great a stake in the academy for that. Sometimes what you really wanted to do couldn't happen anywhere but an institution, or maybe you'd just gotten a really good degree and couldn't bear to part with the social capital of it. At its best, this just means you haven't given up on the concept and are willing to put in the work to reform it. At its worst, it means you take the examples of people who have overcome extraordinary odds and make them the norm, pretending that everyone who goes to college is some kind of Horatio Alger success story, that college is a perfect meritocracy and is therefore relevant. It's the same just world fallacy that happens everywhere else but with more easily-collectible metrics.

Of course, I've never seen Good Will Hunting, so I have no idea if it's relevant to this or not. Much as I love Cat and Girl, I don't think this article helped me with that.
posted by Tubalcain at 7:29 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Imagine, if you will, that Will is black. This movie would be incredibly patronizing. "Hey, Will! You can be something other than a Southie! black!"

Well, I don't know. The phenomenon of students policing other students from "acting white" very much is an issue in American culture. It would be patronizing to pretend that that's not a thing.

GWH points out how this is not an exclusively black activity by any stretch of the imagination. Will is a Southie who, for a variety of reasons, cannot bring himself to break out of the traditional roles defined by his socioeconomic group.

I have some knowledge of this because my redneck father was essentially estranged from his redneck family because he was a bookish runt who chose to go to college and to so monetize his love of learning. Everyone else, including his brothers, called him a laundry list of names for doing that, but off he went. He attended a good-but-not-fancy college and landed a good job in the North. Then it became a stressor when my dad had an educated wife and had more money than them, and when they would constantly ask to borrow money, and my mom couldn't understand why my dad couldn't say no, and many more details than that besides.

Well, anyway, my point is that class differences make it difficult to decide to head out of town and get an education, with all the change that that brings.

"Hey, Will, you can be something other than a Southie!" has real sting when Will is aware that, if he goes to college, he'll not only have to leave his friends, but he'll also talk like a Southie and act like a Southie and none of the privileged people around him will regard him as a valuable social contact. He'll be neither fish nor fowl.

I keep mentioning it, but few films from Hollywood seem to have any real understanding of poor and/or undereducated people, at least if they're American. (One recent exception, notable for its rarity: Winter's Bone.) Nobody takes five minutes to think through Maslow's hierarchy of needs for their characters.

This is true, yes. My maybe-too-obvious answer is that making movies is an activity for rich people, and rich people don't typically have much firsthand contact with the truly poor. Haven't seen Winter's Bone yet, though.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:34 AM on September 23, 2011


something something Parseval's Theorem.
posted by grobstein at 7:36 AM on September 23, 2011


Anything: "Will is not just smart; in fact the film pretty much beats you over the head with the message that he is an exceptional fucking genius. That's not the sort of material you use for building a generic social mobility / work ethic narrative."

It promotes the idea that society is a meritocracy. When in fact, it is not.

At least, that is the message I get from the article. I only partially agree, so I really don't want to be in a position to defend the point.
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:49 AM on September 23, 2011


It promotes the idea that society is a meritocracy. When in fact, it is not.

Will does himself no favors by resigning himself to a life of unfulfilled potential, just because the American class system is not on his side.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:56 AM on September 23, 2011




The movie sends the message that if you are smart and work hard, you'll get ahead, and you can beat those other kids who aren't as smart, even if they have more money and better resources. The working class kid with smarts can beat the Harvard types. That's the "encouraging his audience to congratulate themselves" part.

Except that the end of the movie has him blowing off the contacts and the upper class lifestyle that the professor offers, and the lower class lifestyle that his friends offer, to find a third way with whatever the girl might have to offer.

The point is that he rejected the false dichotomy of class and status vs. loyalty and comfort and for the first time in his life made an active decision to find happiness on his terms outside of those two options.

That's the lesson.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:05 AM on September 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


I can get the criticisms of GWH, but least favorite movie ever? She must not have seen many movies.

The least favorite movie ever, in a true and completely objective sense, has to be Species 2. In which the world in saved because the monster is so genetically pure and perfect that it will literally explode to death if you touch it with a black man's inferior blood.

That or Red Zone Cuba.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:05 AM on September 23, 2011


A Very Small Array is the best thing Dorothy does. Especially if you like charts and graphs. I love stuff like this one.

Also: Current Members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives, their photograph as featured on Wikipedia, reduced to the size of one pixel by one pixel, these pixels arranged in alphabetical order and then enlarged by 400%.
posted by cirrostratus at 9:48 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the end, the kid runs away with the girl to go be happy and successful and fabulously rich.

That's not what happened at all. The last thing you know of Will is that he's driving to California, but you don't know if he gets the girl, happiness, success or wealth. He's taking a chance by going out there. I always thought that was part of the point. The reason Will blows off Skylar when she first asks him to come to California is that he knows he would be taking a chance, and he is not able to trust her or anyone else enough to take that kind of chance. So when he does go out to California it's significant because it means that he has gotten over his trust issues. It wouldn't be taking a chance if there weren't the possibility of failure, so you can't say the film is sending the message that society is a meritocracy because you don't know if Will is successful or not.

Likewise a lot of the stuff that she says she hates about Good Will Hunting in the essay is stuff that she "assumes" happens after the end of the movie, but which has no basis in the movie itself.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 10:09 AM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "The point is that he rejected the false dichotomy of class and status vs. loyalty and comfort and for the first time in his life made an active decision to find happiness on his terms outside of those two options."

I took away a different message. I viewed it as a choice of happiness instead of achievement. He is capable of achieving greatness, but unwilling to do so at the cost of his happiness.
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:40 AM on September 23, 2011


But the offer of greatness was what, doing math for the NSA? kinda lame. I'd blow that off too.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2011


The last thing you know of Will is that he's driving to California, but you don't know if he gets the girl, happiness, success or wealth. He's taking a chance by going out there.

which is the whole point of the California myth, after all.

Interesting, now I know why this movie seemed a bit weird and artificial to me: I'm a West Coast kid and very much identify with the kind of laid back eh-it's-all-good egalitarian California style. So of course Will wants to go west - why wouldn't he? It's the only way out of the bizarre, stultifying stratified-class-hierarchy trap he's stuck in through his bad luck in having been born in one of those crufty old East Coast cities.

And really, the movie came out in 1997? California was nerd paradise back then. Techies already knew we were taking over the world, whether anybody else had figured it out or not. We had the Internet and we were demigods. Silicon Valley would have been perfect for a guy like Will.

Poems must be...problematic...for ya.

you know, I don't get puns either, especially not when I'm reading them. Never occurred to me that this might be related to my inability to grok poetry.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:56 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


When he was offered the NSA job, he was being told to trade in one identity for another. When he chose to go to California, he chose to define himself.

I like GWH without being a huge fan of it or anything, but I was miffed at how silly the original blog post was. This thread is making me like GWH more and more, though, especially since it has both Elliott Smith songs and a great Danny Elfman score.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:59 AM on September 23, 2011


Long time since I saw GWH but I remember also being annoyed by the "Hollywood" smart person aspect. I think there's a scene where he flicks through his girlfriends textbook for 20 mins and then does all her homework for her. Savants exist in some fields but not like that. GWH is to 'intelligent' as Rambo is to 'resourceful with guns'.

But I did like this monologue:
Why shouldn't I work for the NSA? That's a tough one. But I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at the NSA, and somebody puts a code on my desk, something no one else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cuz I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East, and once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels are hiding. Fifteen hundred people that I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are saying, "Oh, send in the marines to secure the area", 'cuz they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, getting shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cuz they were pulling a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie over there taking shrapnel in the ass. He comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cuz he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so that we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the little skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. They're taking their sweet time bringing the oil back, of course, maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, it ain't too long till he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work. He can't afford to drive, so he's walking to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks because the shrapnel in his ass is giving him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starving 'cuz every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they're serving is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holding out for something better. I figure: fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected President.
posted by memebake at 11:39 AM on September 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


from my experience, this movie sometimes screened by MIT students for incoming new students to be viewed ironically. A key theme of the commentary is that the university depicted in the movie is not really MIT but something like Harvard in disguise.
posted by Bwithh at 11:43 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting, now I know why this movie seemed a bit weird and artificial to me: I'm a West Coast kid and very much identify with the kind of laid back eh-it's-all-good egalitarian California style. So of course Will wants to go west - why wouldn't he? It's the only way out of the bizarre, stultifying stratified-class-hierarchy trap he's stuck in through his bad luck in having been born in one of those crufty old East Coast cities.

I don't think that really comes into play. I mean, I get where you're going, and you're right as far as it goes. But, aside from the fact that California is where Skylar is, Will never expresses an interest in going there.

In fact, going to California for a girl seems like nonsense to him, and he has to be persuaded that a chance at love is worth it.

Hell, Chuckie has to threaten his life to even get him to consider his options.

I just don't think the Cali Style was a driving factor.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:47 AM on September 23, 2011


I would just add that yet another reason I like GWH is that I genuinely like Matt Damon. Here he is being all intelligent IRL and defending teachers.
posted by bearwife at 11:58 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just don't think the Cali Style was a driving factor.

No, you're right. I'm not talking so much about the movie itself as the cultural context that made it hard for 1997-era me to understand the movie.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:15 PM on September 23, 2011


California is definitely a symbol at the end of the film, even if he hasn't been offering up monologues on that golden westward state. He's rejecting the east coast - with it's undercover class war carried on by stuffy bepony-tailed grad students and its NSA spooks - for the west coast. Go west, young man... The cultural connotation is too heavy to ignore.

(That said, it's really not a movie I enjoy. I usually refrain from saying such things, because hey, why rain on anyone else's parade, but this is kind of the one thread where it's on point to do said raining, as it was the subject of the initial post...)
posted by kaibutsu at 12:44 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


So it is really autobiographical, dude from boston who is too good for the place, but doesn't really want to loose his roots moves to california to find his fortune. Or perhaps it is a version of Damon as he wants to be seen, a kid with humble beginnings, not a son of a stock broker and a harvard grad.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2011


I like this little bit about Good Will Hunting (from IMDb): "When Will (Matt Damon) and Sean (Robin Williams) meet for the first time in Sean's office, Will recommends that Sean read Howard Zinn's "People's History of the United States". As a boy, Matt Damon was Zinn's neighbor and provided the voice for the CD recording of that book."
posted by iamkimiam at 5:54 PM on September 23, 2011


When I was younger, one thing I used to HATE about this movie was how badly he treated Skylar. He really breaks her heart. And a bunch of time goes by and she leaves. So he goes to CA and we the viewers are supposed to assume it's all going to work out for Will. It's so him-centric! What if Skylar doesn't want it to work out...what if him showing up unexpectedly is like old heartbreak invading her new safe, sunny space? Why doesn't she get a voice in this ending?* What balls Will has to think he can just show up and charm his way back into her new life/pants/textbooks/whatever.

I saw the movie a few years ago and the ending didn't bother me as much. I didn't really know why. But I got it more than before. Maybe I could relate to the notion of screwing up a few relationships. And being really hurt like Skylar was, too. It wasn't something I was so scared of because it had already happened and I lived and am ok.

GWH was on TV two weeks ago and I watched it with my housemates. It was great and the ending didn't bother me. I've seen and made some royal screw-ups in the last several years. I've been able to forgive a few people who have really hurt me. I think that made that last scene less about selfishness and arrogance on Will's part (and accordingly, unfairness towards Skylar and her lack of agency in all of this) and more about intentions, forgiveness, making amends, taking responsibility and facing fears. This applies to both of them and I think that's where the notion of good will fits in nicely.

There's also a subtle transition from the movie's prior focus on the past and all the damage that lay there to the acknowledgment of the present (literally with the car, metaphorically with the goodbye scenes) and then to the unknown of the future.

*Because fuck her, that's why.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:20 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Never quite understood the overwhelming standing O this movie got and continues to get. (98% Rotten Tomatoes? Whaaat?)

The contrived story, the unconvincing love interest (okay, maybe she has a habit for wrong guys - but that ain’t how it's played), the self-aware “writerly” dialogue (I hate Aaron Sorkin for similar reasons), the bogus Hollywood take on the supergenius trope (math, history, law, chemistry- surprised he didn't burst out in fluent Russian or Chinese), the soft target of affected Harvard grad students, the unutterable bathos, the let’s-make-this-politically-relevant Howard Zinn and NSA references, the cut rate Dr. Phil psychologizing, the cliched feel good go west young man and spread your wings redemptive power in the love of a good woman ending, the unfortunate acting of Ben Affleck – none of this seems to matter to its many admirers. Why not? Baffles me.

But the real problem is the fact that his being a supergenius is a plot necessity. Always a bad sign. An orphaned abused southie with anger issues and a friends support group is already over egging the pudding, but might be the start of another movie, and possibly a good one. But if we give him the burden of supergenius as well- No. Sorry. It brings nothing to the character, it’s only there to prop up a what is at best a shaky long stretch of a story. It's a cheap jack attempt at making a fully rounded character. It's facile and it's silly and worst of all, it's utterly unbelievable.

On the other hand, it’s been years since I’ve seen the movie and it still brings out my claws (possibly because of the above mentioned love fest it engendered), so maybe it has something to it after all. Still can’t see what, though. 98 Percent? Must be me.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:00 PM on September 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was going to continue the rant, but I stumbled on another two percenter who does a more measured criticism that covers most of what I was going to add. (Though his final verdict is kinder than mine.)

I will note, however, missed chances here. By going the absurd route, the authors missed the chance of doing a harder job. You could have made a movie about a Ivy quality brain out of Southie who finds he’s competing with sub-Ivy quality legacies student and how he deals with that. It could be a good movie, but it would be difficult to write, perhaps beyond D&A. Make him a wounded Supergenius and we need not worry about his self-absorption and his nastier behaviour because, see, he’s been a victim. In fact, he’s really quite lovable and you should look beyond his shitty behaviour because, well, he's been a victim.

Not much dwelling on the To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Expected thing either. Too stodgy, too corporate, too damned hard. As comments above suggest, it is a subject worth investigating. The movie did not.

Does he ever say thank you to Professor Stickfigure, or apologize for embarrassing him repeatedly? Of course not. Professor Stickfigure may have saved his life both figuratively and literally, but so what? He’s a boring old cog in the Establishment, he's not a hot chick or from southie, and besides, being a wounded Supergenius means never having to say you’re sorry. The best we get is the weepy apology to Dr Patch Adams, another Southie Wounded Genius in yet another cliched breakthrough scene, and it’s pretty self serving, and superfluous besides, since, after all - “It’s Not Your Fault”.

Maybe a few more sessions with Dr A were called for. Or a script doctor.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:17 AM on September 25, 2011


Or a script doctor.

According to some they had a script doctor, William Goldman, pretty respected one at that. Goldman claims he didn't do much rewriting but there are persistant rumors that he changed a lot. All I'm saying is Good Will Hunting originally started out as a thriller, the NSA angle was played WAY up.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:54 AM on September 25, 2011


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