Monty Kessler (Brendan Fraser), a smart public policy major at Harvard who has nothing on his mind except getting ahead in the world, is thrown together with Simon Wilder (Joe Pesci), a middle-aged bum who is living in the basement of the university's library. They desperately need each other even though neither knows it.
Kessler convinces his three roommates to take in this homeless and colorful character during the winter. There's a rumor going around campus that Wilder is the ghost of Walt Whitman. That's not far off the mark: he is a vagabond soul who traveled all over the world in the merchant marines and is now dying of an asbestos-related lung disease.
Joe Pesci is perfect for the part of the volatile Wilder, a man of emotional highs and lows. Brendan Fraser is just right as the upwardly bound Kessler, an honors student whose senior paper is a tribute to his advisor (Gore Vidal), a waspish conservative. Wilder helps this achiever see that the education of the heart is as important as book learning. And Kessler and his friends help Wilder achieve a finely finished death.
The English mystic Evelyn Underhill once wrote: "I am sure that God has something to teach us in every situation in which we are put and through every person we meet; and once we grasp that, we cease to be restless and settle down to what we are." By the end of With Honors, Kessler and Wilder have reached across the abyss of age, class, and political persuasion separating them. They have exchanged meanings and deep emotions.
We need more movies about the education of our feelings. This one fills the bill nicely.