GoonPosted: February 29, 2012
I usually don’t like sports movies. It seemed like there was a dark period in filmmaking when every other sports movie was about some underdog team overcoming adversity to win the big championship. Sometimes they were football teams, sometimes they were drum teams (? this is not a thing in Canada, at least that I know of), sometimes they were some kind of newfangled hiphop dance team. The enemy team was always this reprehensible bad team; while the good guys were (typically poor) scrappy underdogs, the bad guys were rich, had plenty of training, and were mean and snooty. It seems like every sports movie made since Remember the Titans was just… a remake of Remember the Titans with different actors and sometimes a different sport.
Goon is a different kind of movie. For starters, it’s a hockey movie and it’s a comedy. The film stars Seann William Scott as the certainly dumb (and possibly mentally handicapped) Doug Glatt, a bar bouncer who, after scrapping with an amateur league hockey player, is invited to a tryout and makes the team. Glatt trains and practices fighting, securing his position as professional goon. Glatt eventually makes it onto the Halifax Highlanders, a junior-league team Up There in Canada. The Highlanders need a goon to protect their star player, Xavier Laflamme (Marc Andre Grondin), who is protrayed as every hotshot early-twenties Quebecois hockey player. Laflamme made it onto the Montreal Canadiens but suffered a brutal hit by goon Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber, who should star in most movies), which completely shatters his nerve and ability as a hockey player, sending him down a spiral of poor playing combined with snorting cocaine off the bodies of anonymous women. Rhea, too, finds himself sent back down to the juniors, and the challenge is obvious enough, but told to us at least twice: who’ll win in a fist fight, Ross Rhea or Doug Glatt?
Goon achieves what it sets out to do: firstly, it is one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time. I don’t think a single joke fell flat. I was laughing just about non-stop. There were a few unfunny spots, including a seemingly mandatory romance with a not-too-cute-but-hockey-cute loose woman, played by the adorable Alison Pill. These spots are obviously not meant to be funny. While each scene has a joke or two here, they won’t have you rolling in the aisles laughing (well, there was one joke…). All in all, it’s reasonably well-handled and very reminiscent of the Sean Avery / Elisha Cuthbert thing.
The film is “Canadian”, and this typically precedes the title of a film that isn’t that good. A “Canadian” movie is typically called such because it (seems) that it can’t compete with American films. But Goon stars several Americans (and sure, several Canadians), and it is about an American hockey player who makes it onto the junior leagues in Canada. Laflamme and Rhea, the two representatives of the NHL, are Canadian-born players, too. But America is really only referenced once or twice the entire film; at one point one of Glatt’s new teammates calls him “that yank who beats people up”, but that’s about it. I think what makes the film Canadian, however, is the humour. It’s authentic Canadian humour. “Eh” gets said a few times, and there are jokes about Saskatchewan, and Quebec, and so on, but for the most part, the jokes are just jokes. Most of the jokes focus on either physical violence or abusive language, and that’s about it. I think for some reason, Canadian filmmakers are under the illusion that “Canadian” jokes need to be jokes about America, or about healthcare, or education, or cultural mosaics, or whatever, and I think it’s hurt Canadian comedy. The problem with Canadian comedy is that it needs to be appreciated in America, so the jokes typically end up being self-deprecating jabs at Canada. I think the makers of Goon realised that the difference between America and Canada isn’t so large as either side likes to believe, and that as long as a joke is funny, an American and a Canadian will laugh just as hard.
Goon relies heavily on physical violence and swearing. Just about every other word is “fuck”, so the filmmakers clearly tried to go for some realism. As the film focuses on a goon, there are people getting punched on high-speed cameras galore, with teeth and blood flying everywhere. It is a brutal movie, and I think the message couldn’t be clearer: hockey can be an incredible bloody sport. The fighting is always encouraged by the fans in the stands, too. As much as people whine about the sport itself for how violent it can be, the film tries to remind us that we’re culpable in it (and that we like it just as much as the goons). Thankfully, the movie doesn’t sacrifice anything to send this message across. It isn’t heavy-handed and the only cautionary message we really get is from Glatt’s father (played by the aged Eugene Levy) who points out to his son the excessive violence and risk of injury he is putting under, and we leave the scene thinking he’s an asshole, anyway.
Seann William Scott nails his performance, by the way. His goon is a loveable and, actually, helps Laflamme get his fire back and teaches us all the importance of teamwork. Sure, it is a little corny and we have to realise that no human being is as good a person as Glatt is (probably), but Glatt is an extremely likeable character (as is Rhea, who really just seems to be a jaded-Glatt).
Goon isn’t a brilliant film, but it sets out what it achieves to do perfectly. It is hilarious and has a few layers to it. It also manages to be Canadian without 1) plastering the CBC everywhere or 2) repeatedly saying “we’re all a bunch of hosers, eh” (to Goon‘s credit, they do sneak in several “famous” Canadians throughout the film, again, without being heavy-handed about it). I wholeheartedly recommend watching Goon, especially if you’re a Canadian or if you like hockey — and fortunately, at least in the world of Goon, these two things aren’t always mutually inclusive.
Today is Anti-Bullying Day. While I don’t condone bullying, I also don’t condemn fighting in hockey.