Watching FINDING FORRESTER is a bit like watching a strange meld of two great films, GOOD WILL HUNTING and THE BASKETBALL DIARIES. While quite a bizarre mix, the film is well made and wonderfully acted, if occasionally strained and too conscious of interracial issues.
The film begins with an “inner city youth” named Jamal Wallace, played remarkably well by newcomer Rob Brown, getting up for a day full of basketball and hiding his smarts at school. For the first 20 minutes, the movie more resembles an African-American version of KIDS than a heartwarming tale of learning to grow up as an outsider. Then enter Sean Connery, the mysterious recluse Jamal and his friends have deemed “the window.”
On a dare, Jamal breaks into the “window’s” apartment and upon being confronted by the surly Scotsman, accidentally leaves his backpack within. The catch is that inside his backpack are a group of notebooks where Jamal practices his writing. And this is where the GOOD WILL HUNTING part of our story commences.
As it turns out, Connery’s character William Forrester happens to be reclusive Salinger-esque author, whose novel Avalon Landing, inspired Jamal and every other writer since the '50s. Accordingly then, Connery is the Robin Williams of FINDING FORRESTER, without the PhD, and Brown is the Matt Damon, without the criminal record, but with the clandestine smarts.
Forrester, through a series of writing sessions with (gasp!) a typewriter, teaches young Wallace how to write and to be proud of his intelligence. For his part, young Wallace teaches Forrester to find himself and relearn to interact with the human race. Oh yeah, and the whole time, there’s this whole basketball thing. Really the basketball subplot is kind of pointless and seems to just be there to provide the filmmakers with another way to categorize Jamal as the stereotypical black inner city kid. Not really an annoyance, Jamal’s basketball talent was just there.
The subject of annoyances however, brings to mind the trite and strained relationship between Jamal and his white classmate Claire (Paquin). Let me hear a big, “NO NEED,” for this little plot twist. Of course, I have nothing against interracial relationships on film, but if your story has one, you have to be confident with it. FINDING FORRESTER is too timid and too afraid to step on any easily offended toes to find a place for the young couple. As a result, the relationship is faulty and seems out-of-place.
As for exactly what unfolds and what the heck the deal is with F. Murray Abraham and why I now hate him, well, you’ll have to see the movie for that. And you should. See the movie that is, because it’s well worth the two hours and $8 you’ll spend.