Cinematic rule number 5436: Robin Williams is at his best behind a beard. Think about it: "Bicentennial Man", "What Dreams May Come", "Jack" - all feature a clean shaven incarnation of the former stand-up and are about as welcome as a hand grenade in a nursery. But a hirsute Williams starred in "The Fisher King", "Awakenings" and, um, "Aladdin", as well as delivering an Oscar-winning turn in "Good Will Hunting".
This charming, feelgood drama also garnered a Best Original Screenplay gong for its co-writers - and co-stars - Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. And with good reason. Funny, moving, and perceptive, even with the rumoured help of studio script doctors, this is still a remarkable debut.
Damon excels as the title character, a hardworking but rebellious Boston boy, nearing 21 but with no life plans other than getting wrecked and picking up girls with his best mate (Affleck). Only he's also a mathematics genius (ain't that always the way?). When Skellan Skarsgård's professor discovers this, he's determined Will should fulfil his potential. Forced to attend therapy with a bereaved psychiatrist (Williams), or be sent to jail, Will must face up to his traumatic past if he's ever to have a future.
It sounds like the set-up for some hideously mawkish sick-stirring motivational scenes, but while there are the odd lapses into self-help speak, "Good Will Hunting" remains largely schmaltz free, with a script that zings with snappy one-liners and a couple of killer soliloquies.
Williams is subdued but likeable, while Damon makes his implausible character believable and Gus Van Sant's unobtrusive direction simply leaves us to enjoy their burgeoning friendship.
Touching, without being sentimental, and feelgood without appearing contrived, this is one shrink-wrapped drama that's worth unpacking.