Saturday, December 7, 2013

Goon

2011, Michael Dowse
(countdown to the World's End, day 7 -- oops, missed day 6
in one of my drunken stupors)

I have, generally, very little interest in sports movies.  It's a product of not giving a crap about sports through most of my life.  I kind of like the Olympics, and I've come to be a huge hockey fan and an admirer of tennis.  I come to appreciate sport, athleticism and skill,  but at the same time, the manufactured Hollywoodness of sports movies, the overwrought tension of the games can be effective, but it's the overwrung drama that I find unpalatable.

I think since hockey is not one of the big celebrated sports in the United States (I think it's like #6 behind Football, Baseball, Basketball, College Football and College Basketball) , hockey-centric films are able to be a lot different than your usual manufactured hero worship films, and those making hockey films tend to have more of a personal investment in making them.  Even the actors have to have a level of dedication, since they must know how to skate, and skate well, in order to perform in the film.  You can't fake good skating with camera tricks.  Look at the big hockey movies (no, not the Mighty Ducks trilogy) - Slap Shot and Youngblood - they're gritty, harsh, and raw (to my recollection, I'm quite distant from my last viewing of either) and certainly not as wistful or faux operatic like baseball, football or basketball movies are.

Goon is the product of good Canadian boys and hockey fans Jay Baruchel (actor in Undeclared and This Is The End)  and Evan Goldberg (co-writer of This Is The End, Superbad, and Pineapple Express), obviously having in mind making a rough-and-tumble minor-league hockey-centric comedy in the vein of Slap Shot, but with their comedy pedigree there's naturally more focus on humour.

The film stars Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt, a rather simple small-town guy, sweet and honest, but tough as nails.  His fighting skill is impressive, and wasted on his job as a bouncer.  When he joins his foul-mouthed, hockey-obsessed best friend at a local minor league hockey game, Pat's mouth winds up getting the visiting team's tough guy crawling out of the box and into the stands, only to have Doug take him town effortlessly.  An enterprising coach sees potential for Doug to be a team "enforcer" (a lesser skilled player who protects the high skilled players from hits and provides retaliation if anything dirty happens) and recruits him.

Despite not knowing how to skate, Doug takes on the role and excels, very quickly moving up to a farm-team (last stop before making the NHL)  in Halifax.  There he is tasked with protecting and restoring the confidence of former top prospect Xavier LaFlamme, which proves desperately difficult despite Doug's endless positivity.  He also meets Eva, a puck bunny of the highest order ("puck bunny" = girls who sleep around with hockey players) and falls for her.  Though negligible at first, Doug's keen attitude, heart and team-centric attitude begins to have the desired effect, making the team a viable one.  The usual tropes follow, with the montage of happy wins, team bonding and whatnot.  His complex relationships with Eva and Xavier provide some curious depth that most sports films try to avoid, but then even in Doug's rather simplistic view on life there's an anti-hero complexity, especially when his parents refuse to be supportive.

The supporting cast of the hockey teams and rival players all tackle the broadest of hockey player tropes... the washed up veteran, the quirky Euorpeans, the superstitious goalie, but they're hardly well worn given the perennial lack of hockey-releated pictures.  The rest of the supporting cast, largely Doug's family and friends, are interesting and diverse (Eugene Levy and Ellen David are his devoutly Jewish adoptive parents, while his brother Ira, is a successful Doctor and gay).  There's also Liev Schreiber as Doug's rival/mentor, a notorious tough guy in his last season whom you're never sure whether he's impressed with Doug or bitter about being replace. Then there's Pat, which Baruchel plays detrimentally over-the-top with vulgarity, and harshly annoying.  He's absolutely the weakest element of the film, which is unfortunate given that he wrote an otherwise winning screenplay.

The final moment of the film is not scoring the big goal, or winning the big game, but the big fight, and the film actually plays out more akin to boxing movie than hockey.  It's egregiously violent and better for it.  Hockey is a punishing game and those in the roles of being the punishers do real damage.  The violence is heightened from real life for the screen, and makes the thug aspect of the sport fun only because it is fantasy.  In real life it's one of the less appealing aspects of the sport, and these days doesn't result in nearly the same brutality of fisticuff (referees tend to step in the way pretty quickly if it gets rough).

The film is based on the true story of Doug Glatt very loosely, but the end credits roll with a taste of the real man career int he sport.  Goon 2 is in the works apparently and it's a good thing.  This is a fun exploration of hockey, its characters, the lifestyle, all centered around a sweet and likeable character.