“’90s Suite, Summer 2021”

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Part i: “I’ve Got a Lot of Problems with the ‘My Boy’s Wicked Smart’ Scene in Good Will Hunting and Now You’re Gonna to Hear about Them!”

What a fool I was to think the public were still too dull and bloodlusting to understand Good Will Hunting, just because I seem to have grown up in a middle and high school student body that was just that. One look at its Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic ratings shred all such misgivings and cement the movie as a generally embraced classic, albeit one hard to categorize, in a sense, hence perhaps contributing to its Achilles Heel of being a bit misunderstood. Now, getting monotonous, spiny poetry instructors to come around to Dead Poets Society, that might be a little more challenging. 

Something happened, though, along these lines, about 15 years ago to me, which is that I was over visiting my dad at his apartment, he had the movie on, it came to the final psychologist scene (who is played by Robin Williams) and we were talking over it, he, as the de facto master of ceremonies, apparently not prioritizing the airing of the movie as the dominant apex of our attention. And I never wanted it to be like that. I never wanted Good Will Hunting to be second best to anything else in my life. That scene is cinematic perfection, a brilliant, singular and undeniable climax of a wonderful, sensational movie, and, ironically, the exact scene that, when these dullards watch the previews, spawns accusations of “sappiness” or “chick flick.” Nothing could be further from the truth (not to diss chick flicks like Clueless or Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion completely) regarding this often lurid tale of a young man the product of “Southie,” a rough, Irish working class neighborhood in Boston, and proliferated domestic violence.

So can we talk about Robin Williams? Are we ready? Is he a martyr by now and if so, what does that make us, and what does that make those single-celled vermin who were talking sh** to his daughter after the tragedy? I don’t think we’re ready to even think about it, frankly, so let’s pour another bourbon barrel stout and try furiously to ignore the taste of it, as long as we’re in the business of ignoring things. 

And maybe I should just keep ignoring but for some reason upon my last viewing of the “My Boy’s Wicked Smart” scene (where that pony-tailed MIT scholar interrupts Ben Affleck’s character to browbeat him and point out his deceitful attempt to impress Minnie Driver’s character) all these annoying flaws in the screenwriting just seemed to billow out at me like wildflowers. Now, perhaps it’s unfair taking just the snapshot of one scene and critiquing it: maybe it’s the case that if you’re watching the whole movie straight through, you’re too taken by your emotional investment in the characters and processing of all the action to really take note of any minor semantic snags that might present themselves. And it’s important to understand that I’m not a movie critic: I’m not analyzing this scene in terms of entertainment value or any textual discourse within the overall pedagogical entity of “filmic criticism,” per se. Rather, there are gut reactions that I wield against the otherwise prevailing dispositions toward all the respective parties in this scene that are just too deliciously sultry in my mind for me to keep my trap shut. 

Ok, one big problem I have with the scene is that I think Ben Affleck’s character was actually being a huge jacka**, hence alleviating “ponytail”’s [1] wrongdoing in interrupting and flinging sharp, sarcastic wit in his face. And if bullshi**ing to a chick in a bar that you’re a student at M.I.T. was considered “cool” in the ’90s, I might have to sit out our next time travel excursion back to the age of Beavis and Butthead and Wayne’s World. I’m much more inspired by Ponytail’s sharp tongue: he immediately sees through the rhetoric of Affleck’s character which dubs the phantom M.I.T. class he had with the girl “History”: “History? Just history? Oh, it must have been a survey course then.” We then get the snarky punch-out line of “I remember that course… It was right between lunch and recess”, with the writers of the movie even acknowledging that this would have done in Affleck’s character, in all likelihood, save for an interjection on the part of the attractive female, a trope I’ll get to later in its own right. I even thought ponytail beat Will in their eventual argument: I like the “I’ll have a degree and you’ll be serving my kids in a drive thru” zinger way better than “At least I won’t be unoriginal”, or, of couse, appealing to the meathead summons for a fist fight outside, for that matter. If I wanted that I’d watch Rocky. Plus, what kind of loser would have all those stupid lines memorized about economic trends in colonial America if they didn’t have to for a class? That’s like the randomest topic. 

There are two more things that annoy me about this scene. One is that it prizes female beauty while basically infusing Minnie Driver’s character with no apparent traits of individuality, spunk or personality. She’s very much a debutante type who I think rudely interrupts ponytail right when he was getting at his ingenious knockout line of Affleck’s annoying womanizer. And I mean, ok, the woman emerges, and she is the ultimate objective and she is everything. For how cosmopolitan and progressive the ’90s claim to be (ahem, they weren’t), this is a very trite motif, and quite reliant on crusty old tradition rather than anything the average girl could look to as a way of gleaning any direction or inspiration. Also, I hate how they magnify those annoying Boston accents and act like they always make for unimpeachable comedy, although I guess you can’t ask for too much out of Casey Affleck: that’s pretty much the exact goon persona he’s played in everything he’s ever done. 

Now, again, please let me take great pains to ensure you that this is a movie I generally really adore, in no small part for the brilliant writing evident in, among other spots, that exchange between Will and Chuckie about how every day when Chuckie picks up Will, he prays that he won’t be there, that he’s found a better way of life than the everyday factory grind the two men face in the professional world. And it’s out of love that Chuckie says this: he cares about his friend and wants a better life for him, wants him to fully utilize his abilities. Actually, in this way, Good Will Hunting has a common thread with Clerks, which also centers on issues of the jobfront and, in specific, spotlights a character (Dante in Clerks) who’s too afraid to make a change in his or her everyday life and so trudges on in the bucket of crabs, so to speak. 


Part ii: “It’s Time We Stop This Moronic Idolization of the ’90s at the Apparent Expense of Everything That’s Going on Today”

Oh, the irony of using a meme to claim how the ’90s were “the decade before everything went to sh**.” It reminds me of that famous episode of a Seattle anti-globalization rally that devolved into a riot in which one young man is seen wearing Nike shoes and kicking in a Nike sign. I mean, this stuff is just barbaric, and fittingly enough, the meme contains Leonardo DiCaprio, whose movies invariably seem to have the wit of a snail — sappy chick flicks and stuffy Wall Street gags designed for the most nauseating materialists out there. 

And ok, sure, TV and movies were probably way better in the ’90s, as a general rule. But I mean, we didn’t have the Internet on which to talk about them and further immortalize them, and, of course, create memes to complain about how much sh** sucks nowadays when truthfully probably more comfortable with the role of petulant, whiny critic than earnest fan or pupil. I was just ruminating today as a beer drinker and thinking about what a heavenly plethora of beers there are out there to drink. We have more ways of watching and enjoying sports these days and NBA games aren’t just devolved into human bumper cars, like they were in the days of Shaq and Dennis Rodman, who I thought was a huge douche bag for staring at Frank Brikowski waiting for that foul shot and really got punked out by the humble, gritty Brikowski, for that matter. I mean I guess that’s kind of beside the point but it does hit on the ’90s in pertinence to the disgusting habit there of worshipping icons and giving them immunity to everyday laws of human interaction. 

Anyway, as a way of giving a little more muscle to my point here, I’ll use Saturday Night Live as an example. And again, I’m fully on board with movies and TV shows having been better in the ’90s, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of SNL actually being superior now to what it was back then. As a kid, that is, I would always worship that “Harry Caray Show” that Will Ferrell did back around ’97 or so but the last time I watched it I just didn’t think it was funny at all, and what’s more it even attempted to use the cheap ploy of making fun of the quirks and mannerisms of a public figure, and still fell way short. 

Whereas, in what I must admit was a pretty desperate attempt to find some signs of life in comedy, starting in about summer 2019 or so I started checking out some SNL skits and really came across some pretty decent stuff, all in all. There was this one where one of the guys is working a returns counter at a Wal-Mart or something and a bunch of unsavory trolls come in, like a girl trying to exchange cologne for tampons for her boyfriend because he’s a pu**y, and an old lady who runs her electronic sit-down scooter, straight into the counter. Sometimes cheap humor is the best, I’m telling you. There was this one where this group of people is together playing a movie quote game where someone says a quote and the other people try to guess the movie. The complicating element here is that two people, one being Heidi Gardner’s character and the other the British male host, keep guessing the same obscure movie that no one else has heard of, and, by virtue of that, pretty much falling in love with each other. At one point Gardner’s character pleas “Am I gonna have to ball Tammy’s hot husband right here in front of everyone?” The skit then comes to a glorious end with Kate Mckinnon’s character, whose husband it is falling in love with Gardner, exclaiming “Everyone out of my house, now!”, only to receive the frank reply of, “Oh, As Good as it Gets!”

There have been a couple other funny ones like one with Kenan Thompson doing Bill Cosby locked up in prison, Cosby so kooked up that he thinks his radio is actually Quincy Jones: “I got Quincy Jones over there pumpin’ out the jams and what can I say I’m doin’ ok.” At the end, too, there was this ultra-bizarro epilogue of the radio coming to life and talking, relating the startling bit of information that “I got news for you… I actually am Quincy Jones,” before tailing out with this sort of cool-guy, jazz-DJ rhetoric to close the skit. My favorite of all, though, probably has to be this one where Kyle Mooney is playing this dude who’s hanging out with his friends, eating wings and watching sports, and, unfortunately, trying too hard to be funny. He whips a beer at Pete Davidson, for instance, as hard as he can, hitting him in the head and really contributing to the overall damper he’s been putting on the situation. He tries to make a bad “Cut-to joke,” then, which is a suggestion of a defining image of a humorous subject at hand prefaced by the articulation of “Cut to (this person doing that, etc.), which in his case I think pertained to some giant chickens getting in a fight, or something along those lines. It’s then that Pete Davidson’s character steps in and initiaties a sort of intervention, insisting to Mooney that he doesn’t have to be funny to be liked, just listening and laughing is enough in and of itself. The climax of this skit then comes with Mooney’s punch line of “Cut to me making like 100 more cut-to jokes,” which, the rest of the guys then have to admit, is kind of funny.

So yeah I’m not saying we’re living in like a glorious age of entertainment nowadays… there are popular shows and movies from the last 20 years that I completely can’t stand. But this reduction of the situation to “everything sucks” now and “everything was glorious” in the ’90s just smacks of laziness, churlishness and the oversimplification fallacy, whatever the He** that is. 


[1] Please forgive me: I’ve spent about 10 minutes searching for the name of this actor or character online (I think Minnie Driver’s character says “Rob” but I’m not sure) and it seems to be an exercise in futility. I even came across a Zimbio article that referred to him solely as “ponytail,” so we’ll just go with that, for the time being. 

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