I think my favorite scene in Good Will Hunting is the short sequence towards the end where Will receives a car from his friends for his birthday. After a bunch of tedious plot wrapping-up — the unloading of “it’s not your fault,” some introspective scenes with Will thinking quietly, Will accepting an ambiguous corporate math job with “MacNeil” — the birthday scene is a welcome breather, and a reminder of what is exceptional about the film.
A few years back, I declared I would have a Good Will Hunting Renaissance. It was on my list for the summer. Friends talked it up for weeks. We had not seen the film for years, and in particular, we had not seen it since working in Harvard Square every day.
I can’t say we weren’t disappointed. The chummy therapy, the romance, the arc of self-forgiveness — it’s forced and clumsily stitched together. In the scene that immediately proceeds the birthday scene, Will meets with Sean for his final therapy session — “You’re a free man” he says to Will. And we are to believe he is…
Since it’s “not your fault,” you just have to get a job, a car, a girl, and follow your dreams.
But when Will and his friends gather, the film is understated, charming even when distasteful, and focuses on characters that seem to actually inhabit the world — all this plus blow job jokes.
Will’s pals surprise him with a gift that will complete his process of self-actualization — it’s a clunker of a car but it will get him on the road to see about a girl; he’s no longer restrained to the T or to carpooling (though admittedly, as Chuckie points out, “Morgan wanted to get you a T-pass.”) The exchange is typical of the four guys’ loving and pervasively insulting relationship.
“This is the ugliest fucking car I’ve ever seen in my life,” Will jokes with genuine gratitude.
The character Bill, whose role as fourth-friend is generally “guy passing out drunk in the corner” delivers the oddly heartfelt, half-mumbled, “It’s a good car. The engine’s good.” Compared to “you’re a free man” or “I had to see about a girl,” I much prefer this line as a summary for what Will has learned over the course of the film. It’s a good engine — it’ll get you places — and that’s what matters.
It’s a good birthday.