The entertainment press loves unlikely princesses, but Good Will Hunting had so many Cinderella stories that one of them got lost in the shuffle: that of the soundtrack album. Most of the headlines went to the film's young screenwriter/stars, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and director Gus Van Sant. But Van Sant made room for two talented musicians in his pumpkin ride to the Oscar ball: little-known folk popster Elliott Smith and film scorer Danny Elfman. Elfman had already become one of Hollywood's most popular and prolific composers, but until 1997 he never seemed to be fully accepted by his peers in the clique-ish world of film music. In 1998, he finally received his first two Oscar nominations, for Good Will Hunting and Men in Black. The Elfman tracks on this CD borrow liberally from other composers (Randy Newman, Ennio Morricone), but they also break the melodic mold of Elfman's Batman score, which has constrained most of his work since 1989. His use of acoustic guitars is a particularly fresh choice, lending humility and mobility to the sweeping string arrangements. However, the most impressive success story of all may belong to Elliott Smith. He had only three independent albums to his name before Van Sant (a fellow Portland native) chose his songs for this movie. Six Smith songs appear here, including one new tune, "Miss Misery," which stunned observers by pulling in an Oscar nomination for Best Song. That honor is almost exclusively reserved for Broadway-style musical numbers and adult contemporary superstars. While "Miss Misery" recalls the bouncy harmonies of Queen, most of Smith's contributions owe more to the mellow influence of Simon & Garfunkel. His whispered vocals and quietly nimble fingerstyle are perfect for the film's exploration of intimacy and underambition. The soundtrack album also features a handful of pop songs by other artists, some of which blend in well (the Waterboys, Luscious Jackson) and some of which don't (Andru Donalds, the Dandy Warhols).
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AllMusic Review by Darryl Cater