Robin Williams RIP

via http://www.independent.co.uk
via http://www.independent.co.uk

 

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A Fixer-Upper with Great Potential (It’s a Metaphor!)

Central Square Theater's production of "Matt & Ben." Pictured: Philana Mia (Matt) and Marianna Bassham (Ben) Photo credit: A.R. Sinclair Photography
Central Square Theater's production of "Matt & Ben" with Philana Mia (Matt) & Marianna Bassham (Ben) Photo: A.R. Sinclair Photography

Interior. Ben’s apartment. A lazy Saturday in Somerville, Massachusetts. Stage right we see a desk, a computer, all untouched. Center stage we got a second hand couch. Pan left we see various junk food  . . .

Thus the stage is set—early on in the play Matt & Ben.

Cut to November 2011: the interweb is abuzz with the news that the house at 2327 Hill Drive is up for sale. We aren’t in schlubby, scrappy Somerville anymore.

Known as the ”Braasch House,” “Ma Castle,” and—by some—the “Good Will Hunting house,” this is the house in which Matt and Ben penned their Good Will Hunting, sometime in the mid-nineties.

Ma Castle Gated Entry

I think it’s safe to say—the popular mythology of Matt and Ben’s rags-to-riches (or “Boston-to-Hollywood”) tale brings to mind something a little less grand than what we see here. (Certainly something a little less Viking-French Norman.) Despite being described in the realtor’s listing as “a fixer with great potential,” this is not the Boston-area apartment with pizza boxes and School Ties posters we were probably imagining. Much like Matt Damon’s Will Hunting (that twinkle in his eye! that beautiful shimmering hair! those wicked smart math skills!), the potential is quite obvious.

A duo of underemployed actors write starring roles for themselves and go on to great acclaim? In 2002 the play Matt & Ben was a hit at the International Fringe Festival and the next year Off Broadway. Playwrights Mindy Kaling (a Cambridge native, now on NBC’s The Office and author of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?) and Brenda Withers (actor/writer of the recent play The Ding Dongs, or What Is the Penalty in Portugal?) wrote Matt & Ben in their crummy, railroad-style Brooklyn apartment and went on to star in the play in Manhattan and then L.A.

Good Will Hunting was based on a story Matt wrote at Harvard [citation needed, I know, I know]. According to the version of the legend being pushed on the realty blogs—one stretches the facts even further to claim the house was built in the 19th century and that Matt and Ben themselves owned the place, rather than simply renting it once upon a time—the duo wrote the screenplay itself here:

Fireplace at the real Good Will Hunting house

My favorite part of the press release, by real estate site Zillow:

No, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon do not come with this house at 2327 Hill Drive. But as a result of the creative whirlwind the pair cooked up inside these funky walls, this Eagle Rock address has unofficially become known as the “Good Will Hunting” home.

So I just want to know… where exactly did they hang their School Ties poster? That fireplace eats up so much wall space!

Central Square Theater's production of "Matt & Ben" with Philana Mia (Matt) & Marianna Bassham (Ben)
From the Central Square Theater production of "Matt & Ben." (Yup, that's a School Ties poster on the wall behind Ben.)

Mindy Kaling is quick to point out in her recent book that they basically did no research on the real Matt and Ben’s journey. She and Brenda were essentially more interested in playing with the mythology of the duo’s celebrity.

So, why is it so disappointing to see how bitchin’ their pad was?

Next thing you know, we’ll find out they didn’t actually write Good Will Hunting. It just fell from ceiling, or something.

But writing alongside fancy chandeliers and palm trees? It does drain some of the Boston from the myth. And the Boston was our favorite part.

What happens in Southie stays in Southie

St. Patrick's Day Parade in Southie, March 14, 2010
St. Patrick's Day Parade in Southie, March 14, 2010
St. Patrick's Day Parade in Southie, March 14, 2010

Until last weekend the only time I had been to the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade was in 2005 with a friend from high school, a friend of my friend, and a my friend’s friend’s 8 to 12 teenage English-as-a-second-language students.  I really only remember three things.

  1. It was crowded.
  2. Some guy was selling a green long-sleeved t-shirt that said “What happens in Southie stays in Southie” and I’ve always regretted not getting one.
  3. There were Storm Troopers marching in the parade, and they were wearing leprechaun hats.

This, Boston’s official St. Patrick’s Day parade, has been held in Southie since 1901 — and unofficially since 1737.  It is such a distinct part of South Boston history and tradition that Team Affleck/Damon intended their Good Will Hunting would open with it.  The opening credits were to take place over scenes from the St. Paddy’s marching and motorcading, and the subsequent opening scene would take place at the crowded Southie bar as Chuckie regales the boys with a story.

Good Will Hunting deleted parade scene
Good Will Hunting deleted parade scene
Good Will Hunting deleted parade scene

Gus Van Sant actually shot and cut together a sequence, which is available for viewing as a deleted scene on the Good Will Hunting DVD.  They shot it at the real parade, months before the film began principle photography.  This is notable for a couple reasons: shooting at a live event with a small crew, the footage actually looks like a Gus Van Sant movie.  You know — “gritty,” “intimate,” etc.  Second, according to Van Sant on the DVD commentary, since the hairstyles of the characters hadn’t yet been determined, they are all wearing ridiculous hats as they goof around at curbside. This combined with the actors’ odd clothing in these scenes points to how much those decisions about costume and makeup (and maintaining their consistency) matters in creating a set of authentic characters.

Good Will Hunting deleted parade scene
Good Will Hunting deleted parade scene

As someone who blogs regularly about Good Will Hunting, I was determined to make it to this year’s parade, rain or shine.

And rain it did.

Still, I’d say it was worth it.  I shook hands with the staff of multiple candidates for Auditor, received some green bead necklaces and 2010 Census chapstick, and saw unicycling floutists, an old-timey canon, and the coldest, wettest bagpipers I’ll probably ever see.

Well, at least it's green? St. Paddy's Day weekend in Boston.

[youtube hAS54bnKeD0]

As far as the subsequent scene of the boys in the bar, it’s not the most eloquent introduction to the characters and themes of the film. (Otherwise, the film’s strongest moments lie in the relationships amongst Will and his friends.  Compare Will’s climactic scenes with Sean, his therapist, and with Chuckie, his best friend.  Both communicate to Will that he must let go of his fear, but the “it’s not your fault” sequence with Robin Williams is as forced and melodramatic as the later construction site scene with Will and Chuckie is frank and stirring — “you’re sitting on a winning lottery ticket.”)

Besides making it completely unclear who the main character of the film is, the St. Paddy’s Day bar scene is territory essentially retread by Chuckie, et al,  when Will introduces them to Skylar at the bar later in the film.

So, let’s be thankful Gus Van Sant served up a kaleidoscopic meditation on Will’s solitude, stuck inside his brain, instead of a story of a cat getting beaten to death, in those early moments of Good Will Hunting.

Good Will Hunting deleted parade scene
Good Will Hunting deleted parade scene

FADE IN:

EXT. SOUTH BOSTON ST. PATRICK’S DAY PARADE — DAY

CUT TO:

INT. L STREET BAR & GRILLE, SOUTH BOSTON — EVENING

The bar is dirty, more than a little run down. If there is ever a cook on duty, he’s not here now. As we pan across several empty tables, we can almost smell the odor of last nights beer and crushed pretzels on the floor.

CHUCKIE
Oh my God, I got the most fucked up
thing I been meanin’ to tell you.

As the camera rises, we find FOUR YOUNG MEN seated around a table near the back of the bar.

ALL
Oh Jesus. Here we go.

The guy holding court is CHUCKIE SULLIVAN, 20, and the largest of the bunch. He is loud, boisterous, a born entertainer. Next to him is WILL HUNTING, 20, handsome and confident, a softspoken leader. On Will’s right sits BILLY MCBRIDE, 22, heavy, quiet, someone you definitely wouldn’t want to tangle with.

Finally there is MORGAN O’MALLY, 19, smaller than the other guys. Wiry and anxious, Morgan listens to Chuckie’s horror stories with eager disgust.

All four boys speak with thick Boston accents. This is a rough, working class Irish neighborhood and these boys are its product.

CHUCKIE
You guys know my cousin Mikey
Sullivan?

ALL
Yeah.

CHUCKIE
Well you know how he loves animals
right? Anyway, last week he’s drivin’
home…
(laughs)

ALL
What? Come on!

CHUCKIE
(trying not to laugh)
I’m sorry, ’cause you know Mikey,
the fuckin guy loves animals, and
this is the last person you’d want
this to happen to.

WILL
Chuckie, what the fuck happened?

CHUCKIE
Okay. He’s driving along and this
fuckin’ cat jumps in front of his
car, and so he hits this cat–

Chuckie is really laughing now.

MORGAN
–That isn’t funny–

CHUCKIE
–and he’s like “shit! Motherfucker!”
And he looks in his rearview and
sees this cat — I’m sorry–

BILLY
Fuckin’ Chuckie!

CHUCKIE
So he sees this cat tryin to make it
across the street and it’s not lookin’
so good.

WILL
It’s walkin’ pretty slow at this
point.

MORGAN
You guys are fuckin’ sick.

CHUCKIE
So Mikey’s like “Fuck, I gotta put
this thing out of its misery”–So he
gets a hammer–

WILL/MORGAN/BILLY
OH!

CHUCKIE
out of his tool box, and starts
chasin’ the cat and starts whackin’
it with the hammer. You know, tryin’
to put the thing out of its misery.

MORGAN
Jesus.

CHUCKIE
And all the time he’s apologizin’ to
the cat, goin’ “I’m sorry.” BANG,
“I’m sorry.” BANG!

BILLY
Like it can understand.

CHUCKIE
And this Samoan guy comes runnin’
out of his house and he’s like “What
the fuck are you doing to my cat?!”
Mikey’s like “I’m sorry” –BANG–” I
hit your cat with my truck, and I’m
just trying to put it out of it’s
misery” — BANG! And the cat dies.
So Mikey’s like “Why don’t you come
look at the front of the truck.”
‘Cause the other guy’s all fuckin
flipped out about–

WILL
Watching his cat get brained.

Morgan gives Will a look, but Will only smiles.

CHUCKIE
Yeah, so he’s like “Check the front
of my truck, I can prove I hit it
’cause there’s probably some blood
or something”–

WILL
–or a tail–

MORGAN
WILL!

CHUCKIE
And so they go around to the front
of his truck… and there’s another
cat on the grille.

WILL/MORGAN/BILLY
No! Ugh!

CHUCKIE
Is that unbelievable? He brained an
innocent cat!

BLACKOUT:

The opening credits roll over a series of shots of the city and the real people who live and work there, going about their daily lives.

We see a panoramic view of South Boston.

Join Blog Will Hunting tomorrow for a live tweet of the Oscars

Tweeting the Oscars

Join us at twitter/blogwillhunting.com.  Is it still a live tweet if we’re not actually there?  I mean it will be live.  But with tape-delay.  Fine its a tape-delay-tweet.

Matt Damon recognizes the vicious heat/buzz/smear-machine warming up this time of year.  The New York Times spoke with him (and describes him as “among the most charming and down-to-earth of all the Hollywood deities”) and reports:

“My first experience with that was ‘Good Will Hunting,’” Mr. Damon said. “The week of the voting there was a story that came out in Variety that Ted Tally had written ‘Good Will Hunting.”

Mr. Tally, a screenwriter who won an Oscar for “Silence of the Lambs,” and Mr. Damon eventually worked together on “All the Pretty Horses,” but at this point they hadn’t met.

“And Ted Tally, to his credit, he called up Variety and said, ‘I want to go on the record and just say I didn’t write that movie, I wish I did but if I had written it I’d take credit for it,’” Mr. Damon said. “It kind of put the thing to bed but I remember getting called for a quote and I said I’m not gonna” – charming colloquialism – “comment. Are they calling Woody Allen and asking him if he wrote the script? They want to come look at my hard drive? I’ve been working on this script for, like, years. And then it was explained to me, that no, it’s not actually about that. It’s about just putting enough doubt in voters’ mind that they would go, ‘oh, I heard something about that movie, I’m not sure if those guys actually wrote it. What’s that – Oh, I liked ‘As Good As It Gets.’”

So, Mr. Damon’s people explained to him, “it’s the ‘As Good As It Gets’ camp,” he said. “And I was like, come on, you must be kidding me. You’re telling me it’s Jim Brooks,” the director of that movie? “’No, Jim Brooks would never do that. It’s the camp!’ Like, what does that mean? It was so stupid. I was just flabbergasted.”