Goon Gives You Hockey, Take it Or Leave It
March 2, 2012 2 Comments
“It might as well say security on the back of your sweater.”
This line, spoken by Eugene Levy in the middle of the Michael Dowse-directed, Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg-written hockey comedy Goon, speaks more to how this film quite simply gets hockey. It may just be a throw-away line about how Levy’s character – a doctor, from a family of doctors – doesn’t respect his son, Doug “the Thug” Glatt (Seann William Scott) in his new job as the titular goon of the film any more than he did his old job as a bouncer at a bar. But it also acts as another in the vast array of references which it uses to, as writer/star Baruchel put it at a press event in the city a week ago, send “a love letter” to the oft-misunderstood, always controversial, but never ignored hockey enforcer.
Now, before we go any further, I will tell you that there’s a way to look at this movie without having any interest or knowledge about hockey. I had a friend watch the film (available now on demand and in theaters in Canada, and in select theaters in the U.S. March 30th) and she was able to enjoy it, despite the fact that hockey makes her yawn as much as it does any of the 292 million Americans that did not watch Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the most-watched NHL game in three decades. Her interest, and of many men and women I know that aren’t hockey fans who enjoyed Goon, saw it as a funny, often hilarious, but oddly poignant film with a likable cast and great jokes.
The point being that this is a good movie, and not just a good hockey movie, which was the worst fear I had about Goon: that like my love for this game itself, it will often have my friends rolling their eyes and asking me to move to Canada. With this film, that was not the case. You should see it if you’re a fan of popular modern comedies (the Apatow movies, any of the other films Goldberg co-wrote with Seth Rogen, Role Models) and, oh hell, if you like a little bit of gratuitous (and I mean that in a good way) violence thrown at you.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about this like hockey fans. This is an awesome hockey film, the most exceptional scripted movie involving the sport since Miracle. Hockey’s become a particularly good subject for documentaries (Baruchel mentioned the excellent Le Chiefs as an inspiration), but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a scripted movie, and that’s if we forget The Love Guru, which thank goodness, is really easy to do. The fact is that Goon not only gets hockey and presents it to you in a way that is familiar and completely radical to regular viewers onscreen, but it has something to say about the roles of various players, the enforcers in particular. I don’t know if anyone was looking for or needed a modern meditation on the role of goons, but now that it’s here, it is a fantastic gift to it’s fans.
Liev Schriber’s character, the not-quite-villanous Ross “the Boss” Rhea, anchors the film in a really subtle, beautiful way. He’s on the periphery for much of the flick, but never quite leaves your consciousness entirely. He’s built up as what’s going to be the antagonist, the bad guy of Goon. To the point where, when we finally see Glatt meet with Rhea in a diner after a game, we expect fireworks and Rhea to make threats. Glatt is “the new me”, as the character puts it, as Rhea is about to retire. However, while Rhea does promise to beat up Glatt should they meet, he bears no ill will toward him. Along with scenes with Georges Laraque, the movie pokes fun at, as well as reveres, the way this group of players goes about their business.
It helps that both Scott and Schriber, especially Schriber, give extremely solid, nuanced performances in making these men understand both the simplistic and complicated nature of their lot in life. Schriber mentioned at the press event that Bob Probert – whose biography he’d read to prepare for Goon, in addition to conversations with Laraque – was on his mind often while performing. It’s weird to see, but also kind of an “aha” feeling when revisiting the film, as I did this week. It’s another way in which the film, as I’ve said so often, just gets this sport and this particular aspect of this sport.
The role of the team as a support system and surrogate family is another fun costume the film tries on. The locker room scenes have an almost workplace-comedy feel to them. It features a bunch of fantastic archetypes (the drunk captain in the middle of a divorce, the rookie looking to suck up to the captain, the coach at the end of his rope) that all get their chances to have a little more depth than they might have in a weaker movie, where they’d be reduced to stereotypes. Well, maybe not the foulmouthed Russian twins that constantly torment the team’s mommy-worshiping goaltender, but that’s funny enough to forgive in it’s own right.
Not to be overly glowing, because I did think there were some flaws in the film. Alison Pill’s character holds up better than I thought on a rewatch, but I still think that character needed a little more depth if she was going to anchor the entire off-ice story of the film. I’ve refrained from comparing this movie to Slap Shot throughout the piece, but one aspect that that film has this one over a barrel on is how well the female characters were drawn in that movie, compared to the one who gets any substantial screentime in Goon. I felt that needed to be stronger, but overall, it was a great experience as a hockey fan.
Which brings me back to Baruchel, who plays Pat – the crude best friend and public access hockey show host. Watch his performance. He looks like the happiest person to ever be doing anything. He co-wrote this film, and spent five years trying to get it made. He appears to be doing what he was meant to do, with a backdrop of the thing he loves the most. He’s as good an audience surrogate for the hockey diehards as you can possibly have, and his enthusiasm – for the film, for the sport, for the goons of the world, and for Doug Glatt – will make you fall in love with it.