Good Will Hunting put us on the map. South Boston was always an under the radar, sometimes misunderstood, Irish Catholic working class neighborhood of Boston. After Good Will Hunting debuted in movie theaters, people from all over the world caught a glimpse of Southie and fell in love. The story of the broken but lovable orphan/janitor/math genius from Southie, Will Hunting (Matt Damon) and his struggles coming to grip with the reality that he is extraordinary and deserves happiness. Through sessions with therapist Sean Maguire (also from South Boston) – played by Robin Williams – Will learns that his shitty childhood was “not his fault.”
Back in 1997, the world caught a glimpse of what I understood and maybe even took for granted sometimes – the salt of the earth, generous, hilarious, and wonderful characters that make up South Boston. Growing up in Southie, I had many an encounter with variations of Will Hunting and Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck). There was a quality about them – a look, an expression, the scrappiness, the sense of humor – something that was comfortable and comforting at the same time. Those boys were home. They were raised like me and I recognized it in the their mannerisms and expressions.
Now watching Good Will Hunting, I identify more with Robin Williams’ character – Sean Maguire. His kindness, his strength, his pride, his conviction to standing up for what is right, makes me see my husband, my father, my brother and so many other men from South Boston. There is something almost intangible about this quality of being from South Boston but I recognize it. I recognize it in a stranger at the airport. I recognize it sitting at a conference in another city – that person is from Southie. I can see from a mile away and it pulls me in like a magnet.
Good Will Hunting was able to capture that spirit and show it to the world as something simple, good and endearing. You wanted someone like Sean Maguire from Southie on your side. This week Robin Williams died and the whole world is stunned and saddened. Southie is sad too. When they were filming Good Will Hunting here in South Boston, the entire cast was visible all over town. Damon and Affleck were not big stars yet but Williams was and he was one of the most down to earth and generous guys you’d ever want to meet. He fit in and he felt like family. He posed for countless pictures, signed endless autographs, gave hugs and handshakes, and he even tended bar at L Street Tavern. He was one of us.
When Williams won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Good Will Hunting, he gave an emotional acceptance speech and gave Southie a shout-out. Williams thanked “the cast and crew—especially the people of South Boston,” saying, “you’re a can of corn—you’re the best!” I couldn’t agree more.
Rest in peace, Robin Williams – you too are a can of corn.