There are two sides to the coin of being from the Boston area. On one side you have the small city, one-for-all, all-for-one camaraderie, the fact that we win sports a ton, and I don’t know, leaves changing? Sure. On the other side, for almost the same reasons as previously stated as a positive, you are naturally inclined to become almost violently territorial and also protective of your city, it’s culture, and, in this case, it’s many, many portrayals.
So needless to say when I signed onto the bird app today and not only stumbled upon some disagreement with “The Town” being the “ultimate Boston movie” based solely on a few extremely questionable alternatives, but actually found people hating on the movie, I was ripshit. No clever wordplay. No exposition. I was pissed. Work is really busy. We can’t find a tee time within 100 miles of our general area without waking up to make it 5am Monday morning. The Celtics can’t close out a game even with adorable Deuce Tatum practically BEGGING them to from the sidelines. I don’t. Need. This. Shit. Right. Now. But this is my job. I take this seriously. I’ve sacrificed too much to be at this keyboard to let this asinine debate rage on without me yelling at clouds about it.
First of all lets get some bias out of the way: To summarize things a bit I would not be here if it was not for “The Town.” As stated before Red and I met working the door at a bar in town and spent many an early morning/late night after our shift getting hammered watching “The Town.” It arguably could be called one of the catalysts to this very blog. We like “The Town,” ok?
But let’s start there in earnest. After all there are two parts to this debate:
1.) Is “The Town” good?
2.) What is The Ultimate “Boston Movie”?
Addressing number one, with my bias dragging me down like Randy Marsh’s engorged ballsack, it’s honestly hard to find a ton of flaws in the Chahlestown-based caper. The easiest thing to point out would be the bad Boston accents, particularly in the case of Blake Lively and Jon Hamm’s number two – you could also add Hamm simply leaving his out to that list. However that is the risk of any “Boston” movie so I don’t think you can really even judge such a movie based on the accents anymore. It’s not quantifiable enough. Everyone is going to have different opinions. Plot-wise, to oversimplify things, “The Town” took a classically conflicted character (Ben Affleck, a bank robber), who is waking up to the possibility of better things in life, including a love interest (who happens to be one of his latest robbery victims) but is trapped by his past (literally the guy running his robbery gang threatens to kill the girl if he leaves). Add in some time and location-sensitive details (the opioid epidemic) and you really do have a great story. There is a fantastic car chase scene, a couple of “The Italian Job”-esque misdirections, and some great acting. What the fuck is the issue? I’ll tell you what the issue is.
People who are either FROM (as in born/raised inside the area codes of) this city or think they know it best find some sort of validation in hating on its portrayals. Its like when people come out of the woodwork defending celebrity, athlete, or just random defendant XYZ when they are charged with a crime. “I knew them in high school they wouldn’t do that.” O you mean your buddy saw him at 7/11 once? Fuck off. No one is impressed. But that’s the thing. Every time a new Boston movie comes out you get eye rolls, not always without reason, from its citizens because that is not the EXACT Boston they have experienced, which would be an IMPOSSIBLE thing to portray. Sheesh.
Now onto our second topic.
What IS the ultimate Boston movie? What, as Sean McGuire would put it, encapsulates the city that invented America? What are even the criterion? I guess I could name a few, not to pass myself off as the expert, but just to set some sort of parameters when evaluating our options. These don’t make or break a movie’s chances mind you, as shitty movies can contain all of the below. But it can help us to validate our choices.
-Some amount of smug, dry, and/or dark humor. Have to have it. We are a miserable people and we are proud of it.
-Fisticuffs. Whoever said fighting solves nothing never left Oregon.
-A difficult friendship. Whether it involves growing apart or the inability to do so, there are people we’d throw down for that we wish we wouldn’t.
-Coffee/beer. This one seems dumb but if I don’t see someone getting their morning Joe or after work beverage on in a Boston movie it’s weird.
-An implication of local pride. There are a couple of good movies based here that don’t really mention it and quite frankly, could be set anywhere. “Boston” movies have to have characters that bleed boycotted tea.
-At least one reference to different classes. Nothing says 617, from when the Orange Line was elevated through now, when Seaport apartments cost more than two Brockton houses, than people from different income brackets being at odds.
So there we are. Cool? Cool.
One movie I am going to address riiiight the fuck away because I saw it nominated for the top spot was “Spotlight.” “Spotlight” was a well made movie featuring a terrific cast that told the story of the Boston Globes’ uncovering of the catholic church sex abuse scandal, arguably the most important local story of our time this side of the marathon bombing. With that said, it’s, well, predictable. And I’m sorry but true stories just don’t do it for me because, ya know, you know what happens? “Spotlight” also is INCREDIBLY boring. And again, I hate to say that about such a well made movie, but it’s literally two hours of people doing research and conducting interviews. Nope, not for me. So if you think “Spotlight” is the ultimate Boston movie you simply lack enough excitement in your life.
“The Town” indeed should be again mentioned as a contender. It’s up there. It has all the criteria as listed above. It really doesn’t have a ton of holes. I guess being such a “genre” movie (bank robbery/heist) sort of pigeon holes it and does not allow it to explore other elements (addiction, etc.) but that’s just fine.
“Fever Pitch” was god awful. Shut up. Next.
“Good Will Hunting” is an obvious choice for the top spot. Looking back at our categories, there are fisticuffs aplenty, including a notably avoided scrap with some rich kid Hahvid students that checks another box. There’s a probably unhealthy loyalty to South Boston. Will has a complicated friendship/relationship with just about everyone. There’s a pervasive dark humor about never rising above the status quo, except maybe to be a shepherd of all things. Almost every scene features one of the guys handing another either a coffee or more commonly, a beer. Including a lunch break on a demolition job which I always found odd.
Beyond that, well, I refer to “Good Will Hunting” as God’s movie. I watch it every other month. It brings you all the way down and build you back up to a peak of optimism on the back of an incredible performance by Robin Williams.
“The Departed” is another movie to give serious thought to. Which is to say, you have to give serious thought to a Boston movie centered around organized crime, moreso one that includes a loose portrayal of Whitey Bulger. For as much as we don’t talk or think about it much organized crime, be it Irish, Italian or a mix of the two, has been woven into the fabric of our fair city for probably forever. That is however, as we agreed, bonus points. In “The Departed” we know Billy (Leo) skews booze in favor of cranberry juice but we saw other characters imbibe. Billy Costigan also drank a fateful cup of coffee before finally sleeping with his shrink. Fisticuffs? Of course. Local pride? Well the dark, self-deprecating humor we’ve alluded to allows the characters to hate where they are from while also loving it. Also featured are possibly the two most complicated friendships of all, where Billy and Colin both love and loathe Frank Costello, the Whitey Bulger stand-in played by Jack (no last name needed).
It’s become en vogue to hate on The Departed’s flaws (HOW DID THEY NOT KNOW THE NEW GUY WAS THE RAT?!). And I can get that, to a point (hey fuckos he was supposed to be undercover for like, years.) But overall it holds up as a solid mob movie and a riveting tale of betrayal, deceit, and loyalty.
“My Best Friend’s Girl” is an underrated comedy but could have literally been set in any city that hosts a marathon and allows Dane Cook within its city limits.
“Mystic River” is another entry, albeit another that has been criticized in hindsight. I for one long considered Clint Eastwood’s saga of love, loss, and revenge as my favorite movie. It checks the boxes of all our categories, including a quintuple check in the “complicated friendship” box. There maybe not be a more fucked up group of friends than Dave, Sean, and Jimmy, as much as it was none of their fault.
“Gone Baby, Gone” is a personal favorite but one I can’t consider because a lot of people hate it. It again checks all the boxes but I guess was considered forced when it came to the actual “Boston movie” category.
“Boondock Saints” is a fun shoot-em-up that one would think was made by aliens after a brief explanation of the Irish/Irish-American experience in Boston. There is literally nothing complicated about it. Sorry.
“Southie” is a solid, old Donnie Wahlberg outing that never quite delivers on its promise. Same goes for “Bluehill Avenue”.
Finally, “Black Irish” is a truly great movie I again can’t push for the top spot because not enough people have seen it, which does matter. That and a couple of details that don’t make sense time-period wise (a girl getting sent away to have an abortion and a guy shining shoes for a living in modern South Boston) make this a non-factor. You should still ABSOLUTELY see this one.
The Verdict: “Good Will Hunting”
Penned by then-up and comers Affleck and Damon and directed by Gus Van Sant, the emotional tale of aimless, brawling, but genius Will finding some purpose in life with the help of a shrink (Williams) that shares some of the same pain is about as Boston as it gets.
Hope this fucking helps.