It’s all down to this: Scott’s fight-closed eye vs. Schreiber’s fuck-you mullet.

Goon is a movie for hockey fans who have a healthy sense of suspension of disbelief. Most of that is involved with believing some of the calls, or the prime place enforcing has in this movie’s version of Minor League hockey. Though I don’t have a lot of personal experience with this level of the sport, I doubt it’s as out-and-out violent (especially these days) as it’s depicted here. I could be wrong and if I am, all the more reason for bloodthirsty hockey fans to love this movie.

Getting past that shit (if I’m right), though, should be easy enough and definitely rewarding since Goon is fucking hilarious.

I had no idea Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg wrote this.

Full disclosure: I’m not the biggest hockey fan. I loved the sport when I was younger, having grown up in Flin Flon, Manitoba. It’s pretty much was, when I was a kid, the definition of enthusiastic hockey town. One of those places other teams didn’t like to play at due to the ardor of the fans. Because I sort of left that behind me when I outgrew everything else about where I’m from, I may not have the perspective and cred that would be nice to include in a review of this movie. What I can say, though, is thatGoon has been birthed by love of the sport, even if a little skewed toward its violent side, and I can feel some stirring somewhere inside where all the pieces of my personality that were once comprised of hockey love lay dormant.

The movie’s storyline isn’t anything special. Based on a minor league player named Doug Smith who was active in the 90’s, it’s a classic sports cinderella story. We watch as Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) goes from lovable idiot bouncer to lovable idiot hockey enforcer. He’s impossible not to root for, though, because he is just the nicest and most earnest guy in the world. Played to borderline-retarded perfection by Scott, it’s actually kind of a stand-out performance given both the physicality a jacked-up un-Stifler brings to bear as well as the sometimes vacant and childlike mentality of the character.

Along the way, Glatt is encouraged by his best friend, a webcasting hockey commentator played with vulgar enthusiasm by Jay Baruchel. There’s also a bit of time spent on his disapproving elitist family. There’s something here that coasts on the stereotype of the high-standards, demanding Jewish family but thankfully Baruchel and Goldberg don’t linger there in stereotype-land because honestly, the Jewish stuff just falls flat without anything else going on other than this. More traction is gained out of Glatt’s brother, a gay doctor, who is always on his side while both of them are looked on with disappointment by their parents. Eugene Levy brings absolutely nothing to the table here and the few scenes with Glatt’s parents are only saved by Scott (I can’t believe I’m saying that).

You have to wince at the punishment this guy goes through while also applauding at his noble and simple acceptance of it.

In fact, I’ll take that a step further and say that Scott is the best thing about the movie. He saves scenes that otherwise would have been a wash. He also stands tall with veterans like Schreiber, bringing a strange and heroic dignity to a character who, five minutes ago, was making you laugh because he’s basically a moron. It’s actually kind of amazing and I hope this role leads to some kind of resurgence for Scott, a guy who has honestly tried to get past Stifler with mixed results.

Goon‘s script is super economical for all that its coasting on a sports movie structure that is the height of cliche. Sometimes the economy shreds subplots that maybe could have had a bit more substance, such as the oddly disjointed demi-bromance with LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). LaFlamme is a troubled guy but one of the best scorers in the league. He’s let it all slide, though, after a bad hit by Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) who is the scariest enforcer in the league before Glatt shows up. While LaFlamme looks on as Glatt becomes the heart of their team, some classic tension brews between them but is ultimately defused by sheer force of Glatt’s earnest sweetness and team-playing ethos. LaFlamme pretty much melts after one of the funniest exchanges in the movie, but that doesn’t mean the relationship is as developed as it could be. Probably more a nitpick than an honest criticism given that what is there is pretty good.

LaFlamme is an unlikable douche for 90% of the movie. His redemption is a bit too easy and completely contingent on how he treats Glatt. This is a bit weak.

One of the most noticeable things about how Goon‘s story works, for me anyway, was in how it deals with the presence of cliches in its own narrative structure. This might be crossing too far into the analytical for this movie, but bear with me.

Basically, Goon is off-kilter in more than just its humor. Every time it brushes up against some cliche, say the presence of a supportive love interest like Eva (Alison Pill), there’s just a little extra added or spun out to make these people feel a bit more 3 dimensional. Eva is actually a good example because she’s a pretty hard character to get behind. She fucks around on her boyfriend who, to be fair, seems like a colossal douche. By being very flawed, however, she feels like a more realized character and it makes it easier to deal with that her growth is pretty much contingent on Glatt’s good nature winning her over in the end (exactly like with LaFlamme) which is itself a cliche of sports movies (see:Rudy).

Rather than being some grandiose sports epic, Goon feels more intimate as a result of its quirkiness and affection for people who aren’t exactly our customary heroes. Like I said before, Glatt is moronic to the point where you’re not sure if he should even be functioning as a normal adult (you eventually realize he’s just slow-witted and naive), the love interest is a self-professed slut, the other members of the Highlanders are all half-formulated cartoons, and so on. Yet somehow this works because the colorful team is just colorful enough and Baruchel and Goldberg wisely kept the movie’s focus on Doug Glatt making the oddball supporting cast feel grounded somehow when things could have easily gone to camp and probably undermined the movie. I’m not sure if keeping things with the other characters, especially the team, so fast and loose is a better idea than taking time to flesh them out more but it seems to work for Goon so I can’t really consider it a flaw so much as an unusual affectation.

Only a handful of players are introduced and while it’s kept so slight it’s barely there anyway, the humor these guys bring to the table is derivative and doesn’t really work.

While I’m a bit down on the supporting cast, it’s more in how the script uses them. The only small role that’s carried with inspiration is that of Kim Coates, the coach of the Highlanders. He’s riffing on the angry coach theme a bit, but you can tell that “hockey coach” is probably a role this guy always wanted to play and he has a blast with it, even affecting the Southern Ontario-Maritimes “Canuck” accent that Americans think we all speak with. Schreiber is really the main guy to watch after Scott. The guy’s a great actor and tends to choose fun roles. While he is obviously having fun as Rhea, he brings some pathos as well, especially in a scene with Glatt that echoes the gravitas, speech, and even shot composition of a similar cafe scene in Heat… a joke that is so meta and self-aware that it elevates the entire movie.

The last thing I want to say about this movie is something I’ve been saving for last because it was the second most pleasant surprise about the whole thing (the first being Scott’s performance). That is the rampant Canadian-ness of this movie. I did not know that Goon was set primarily in Canada or that it would feature cities like St. John’s and Halifax that I’ve never seen in a movie before. Half the cast, American or not, are pulling various Canadian regional accents and it’s beautiful. The whole thing feels like a love letter not only to hockey but to the distinctly Canadian approach to it.

While this doesn’t qualitatively add to the movie, it’s not something to disregard even when trying to be a good objective critic. It’ll be too important an element to too many people for that.

So all in all, Goon is a pretty damn good sports movie. It features some great performances, some epic fights, and a plethora of off-beat characters and subsequent character-driven humor that works more often than it doesn’t.

One more for the road: Scott is a monster in this movie.

Advertisements