Director: Michael Dowse (‘Take Me Home Tonight’)
Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Alison Pill (‘Midnight in Paris,’ ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’) and Eugene Levy
Successful sports films are often backed by major studios and chronicle the success of popular teams and the well-known players and managers who have made them famous, such as last year’s Academy Award-nominated movie ‘Moneyball.’ But the new independent film ‘Goon,’ directed by Michael Dowse, takes a risky chance by focusing on hockey, a sport that isn’t as popular as baseball in America, and is based on the life of a retired Canadian hockey player, Doug Smith. But with a genuinely funny script that focuses on the humanity and the emotions of the players, instead of just the technical aspects of the game, ‘Goon’ rivals other great sports films.
‘Goon’ follows Doug Glatt (played by Seann William Scott), an underachieving club bouncer at a Boston bar who doesn’t live up to his overachieving family of doctors, including his father (portrayed by Eugene Levy). After a chance fist fight with a local thug that’s witnessed by the Halifax Highlanders’ coach, Doug is signed to the minor league hockey team. Despite not knowing how to skate, he is hired as the fighter for the team, who stands up for his fellow players against other teams on the ice.
Doug’s popularity rises with the encouragement of his hockey obsessed best friend, Ryan (played by the film’s co-writer, Jay Baruchel). He eventually has the chance to square off against Ross “The Boss” Rhea (portrayed by Liev Schreiber), a famous hockey fighter on the verge of retirement. While balancing his family’s resentment of his career choice and Ross’ insistence that they’re not really hockey players, and they’re just on their teams to fight, Doug’s interest is also sparked by Eva (played by Alison Pill), who already has a boyfriend.
While Doug is portrayed as not being the smartest one on the Highlanders or in his family, he amusingly and accurately portrays the real fighters on hockey teams. The sports comedy was based on the book ‘Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey Into a Minor Hockey League,’ which tells the story of Smith, who didn’t start playing hockey until he was 19. But he approached the game with the unlikely skill of an amateur boxer, which Baruchel, who is Canadian, and co-writer Evan Goldberg adapted into the script. Combined with the actor’s knowledge of Canadian hockey, as his father was an avid fan, the writers created the perfect underdog hero with Doug.
Doug, who Baruchel also based in part on Laval Chiefs hockey player/enforcer Mike Bajurny, whose family included doctors, embodies everyone’s feeling that they’re doing the best they can do. He repeatedly told his parents that playing hockey is what he’s good at and loves, even though they don’t support him. Scott was perfectly cast in the title role, because he portrayed Doug as being sympathetic and relatable to everyone who’s following their dreams. The actor has said that Doug is the role he’s wanted to play since arrive in Los Angeles; not only is Doug a humble, good guy, it was his dream come true to play a fighter.
Doug is humble in part because his relationship with Eva is genuine and realistic, and her support helps drive his determination to succeed in hockey. While Eva is already in a relationship when she meets Doug, she still becomes intrigued by his innocence, and against her better judgment, wants to get to know him better. The two are led to act on their desires, as opposed to what everyone else wants and expects from them, making them a perfect match.
Baruchel was the perfect choice to play Pat, Doug’s vulgar best friend and one of his biggest supporters. Since he developed the character during the writing process with Goldberg, he perfectly understood and captured Pat’s risqué humor and attitude towards life. The actor also wasn’t afraid to push boundaries in his physical comedy and crude language, but never overshadowed Doug’s innocence and determination.
‘Goon’ is the perfect example of a memorable, amusing sports comedy that doesn’t rely too heavily on the linguistics of the game, allowing all viewers to understand Doug’s struggles. While there are scenes of the game and practice throughout the film, the plot instead mainly focuses on the emotions and driving forces behind the characters’ actions. Through Baruchel and Goldberg’s writing and Scott’s heartfelt and comedic performance, the sports comedy showcases the numerous adversities hockey players routinely overcome, including the lack of support from their overachieving families and the initial resistance from their more established teammates to welcome them to the team.
Written by: Karen Benardello