Calling Goon this generation’s Slap Shot would be an understatement. Aside from the obvious surface comparisons to the George Roy Hill/Paul Newman classic about a minor league hockey team going nowhere, director Michael Dowse (Fubar) and co-writer/co-star Jay Baruchel have created a film that outdoes what many hail as the greatest hockey comedy ever made. While Slap Shot was a film about love of the game in the face of an uncaring public, Goon adds a lot more heart to its story by making it about and for people who love the game. The laughs come just as fast and free, but the surprising emotional weight in this somewhat violent tale helps to set a new high standard for sports comedies.
Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) has been an embarrassment to his successful parents nearly his entire life. The Orangetown, Massachusetts native scrapes by on his job as a bouncer, and his only real friend (Baruchel) can only think about hockey all the time. After defending his friend from a potential assault from a player at a minor league game gone out of control, Doug gets a tryout with his hometown club, where his fighting skills eventually cause him to get called up to a Halifax farm team to act as the protector for a pretty-boy professional burn-out (Marc-Andre Grondin). Glatt energizes the team with his consistently sunny and positive outlook, despite only barely being able to play the game outside of taking a punch. As the team pulls itself out a slump and begins to make a push for the playoffs, it sets Glatt on a collision course with one of the best enforcers to play the game: Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a disgraced former pro determined not to limp quietly into retirement.
The love of the game displayed by Baruchel (who co-wrote with frequent Seth Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg) and Dowse shines through every frame of the film. Despite both men being unabashed fans of the Montreal Canadiens, they nail the subtle nuances of other hockey cities perfectly. Baruchel nails a spot on, but loving impression of profane Boston fans, Quebec arenas look like the Thunderdome, and the East coast vibe of the Maritimes helps to give the home team a real identity. Sure, the team comes populated with a bunch of misfits from the alcoholic captain to the percocet addicted goalie, but they inhabit a world where it’s totally believable that they stay in the game because of the fans.
Part of the game and a huge part of the movie are the fights designed to settle the score for dirty play or to energize a lethargic and losing team. Dowse films the fights with a different eye than he does the comedic elements of the film, using them to help shoulder the emotional depths of the material. These fights are as nasty and brutal as they come, but purposefully so. When Doug, who just might be one of the sweetest and most lovable characters in all of Canadian cinema, gets hurt he isn’t fazed, but the audience is often shocked by the aftermath. Dowse also gets a great assist here from Alison Pill as the girl Doug develops a mutual attraction to despite her already having a boyfriend. She, like us, digs what Doug does for a living, but when things go badly her reaction is ours manifested on screen.
The cast all does their part to contribute to the team effort. Grondin has a blast as the Ed Hardy wearing douche who spends more time doing coke than trying to get his lost game back. Schreiber adds real soul to the role of a journeyman player at ease with the fact that his playing days are over. Kim Coates also might be the first on screen hockey coach to actually look and act the part.
But this movie firmly belongs to Scott, who’s never been better. Doug Glatt is the anti-Stiffler and the complete opposite of what the actor normally gets cast to do. While normally known for playing smartasses who can only think about themselves that would probably wither and die if confronted in a fight, Scott’s portrayal of Glatt with his trademark goofy grin and hangdog expression, marks a true departure for the actor. For once, Scott gets to play the outright hero, a man who lives only to stick up for the people that matter most to him. Even most of the people who have to fight him respect him and see him for the genuine guy he really is.
If you think I’m being too laudatory of the film, there is a minor, but nagging criticism of the film to mention. There’s actually a few hockey sequences that don’t really add too much to the story that probably could stand to be cut. Then again, Slap Shot, the previous standard bearer in this department was almost unconscionably long in comparison and had a bunch of scenes that really didn’t go anywhere.
Dowse and Baruchel have crafted the ultimate love letter to their favourite sport in a film that’s not just a “Canadian movie” or a “hockey comedy.” They have stumbled upon something far more universal and humane. While Doug Glatt might be one of the most feared players in the game, viewers will probably want to give him the biggest hug by the film’s painful looking conclusion. And thankfully, Doug is the kind of character who would gladly hug back. Goon not only gets hockey fans and their attraction to the game, it understands what it’s like to be a good person. In this time of cynical and sarcastic comedies that often find people laughing at awful people in awful situations, it’s nice to see that a film like Goon could still be made. Even if it is made in the land of politeness that is Canada.