Saturday, March 21, 2009

Back to the Leaderboard

I was watching Good Will Hunting just now while sitting on the couch, idly going through the latest Sports Illustrated, page by page, skipping the game analyses and stopping for the off-the-beaten-path pieces, when I came to rest on a story about athletes who go broke. This isn't about that, because I haven't read it yet; I set it aside to read later. I actually want to know how someone who makes as much in a week as I'll make in the next six months, assuming I keep my job, can spend enough of his annual salary to end up broke.

So, I've seen the film before and have always said to myself that I enjoyed it and have agreed heartily how good it is when others say they love it. But as I watched, I realized I don't love it. There are a lot of scenes that make me uncomfortable, or are just boring. Psychoanalysis doesn't do it for me, because figuring things out has always been a passion of mine, and I dislike being told, through art, what I should be thinking. At least, I think that's what I don't like about it. It could be Robin Williams, who I hate to see in everything since I grew tired of his one-faced characters, excepting, for the most part, this film, in which he's excellent. Seeing him act so convincingly only reminds me of everything else, and I cringe when I see it.

Maybe that's not it either. Maybe it's because when I watch it, it makes me feel like I'm Will, that I am some kind of genius in a realm that doesn't make sense to anyone, and that I'm terrified of expressing it, except in little snatches which make me appear as if I'm bain dramaged. Don't know if I'm a genius. I do know that I'm dumber than I often say I am, and I'm pretty sure I'm smarter than I'm willing to test. And isn't everybody the same way? I wish folks would just open themselves up once in a while and show us what they're capable of.

The best parts of the film are also the worst for me to watch. It's what the plot (or is it the story? I always get them confused) is all about. It is in the scenes when the four friends are out together, riding in the car talking about sandwiches, standing on a porch sharing a beer and, the most, when after they've been drinking at a bar, they and Will's girlfriend walk outside and are standing there and I can feel it as if I'm there -- it's cool or maybe cold, they're underdressed for the outside but would have been hot inside had they worn more and they've got that warm feeling from the drink and the camaraderie and the sense of the moment that nothing else but alcohol mixed with friendship and a reluctant parting feels like. Right there, I had to turn off the TV, go to the fridge and grab a beer. Not a good beer, but something that would remind me where I was, give me the pleasure of the smell of it and the base taste, without the pleasure of the aftertaste.

I bought these beers on the way to poker one night. I went into Total Wine, which has quite a selection, unfortunately, almost none of it in cans, which I prefer because beers skunk or go stale less easily in cans for some reason -- this is the south where they wouldn't know a beer going bad if it hit them upside the face -- so, after maybe 10 minutes of perusing, I grabbed a six pack of Leaderboard Trophy Lager, made by the Top of the Hill brewery in Chapel Hill, NC, figuring, incorrectly as it turned out, that, because I'd heard of it before, it must be good and, in a moment of second-guessing, thankfully, also picked up a 12-pack of Amstel Light (in cans).

For some reason I told myself I needed to taste something not good, but still beer, to make an adjective where there is none, to force me to comprehend the experience of the film. Because the point it makes is all-too-simple and it isn't made through math or psychoanalysis or the love story or any of that -- the point is told via the best performance an actor can ever give -- give me that is, perhaps he wasn't acting at all. When Ben Affleck, who plays Matt Damon (Will)'s pal Chuckie, sits in front of the car and tells his friend that yeah, he loves to hang out and drink and get into fights and meet girls with him and he always will, he'd also love for Will to show the world who he is, to let them know what he sees in his friend to say, in effect, I think you're something special, so go show them you're special.

If I had anything in all my ramblings about the virtue of selfishness and the power of words and the value of verve -- anything at all to really say, condensed, it would be that. That there are certain people I know who I hope someday will stop looking at life as a series of nights out at the bar, as a series of good books to read, movies to reminisce over, arguments to make, publications to plan. Who will someday walk out of my life forever and show what they're made of. For better or for worse, it doesn't matter.

The movie isn't inspiring. It's torture. As it should be. I need to take my own advice, I suppose.

If you ever come to Chapel Hill, go to Top of the Hill and get one of those beers. Because you can't think about the future when you're too stuck enjoying the present.