Jan 18, 2012

Goon [15]

Dir: Michael Dowse
I wasn't expecting much from Goon, indeed I only saw it because I had some free time that needed filling, but this turned out to be one of the more welcome surprises I've had in a cinema of late.

Goon is a sports comedy about Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), Doug doesn't fit in with his family of academic overachievers, but when he gets into a fight at a semi-pro hockey game he's given the chance to be a 'goon' - essentially get into fights at tactically advantageous points in the game - for his local team. Moving up in the world, Doug finds himself playing for a team in a more professional league, guarding former star player Xavier La-Flamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), who hasn't been the same since he was injured by another 'goon', Ross 'The Boss' Rhea (Liev Schreiber). Doug finds himself bonding with teammates and falling for local girl Eva (Alison Pill) and on a collision course for a fight with Rhea when their teams meet in the play offs.

The reason I wasn't too excited at the prospect of seeing Goon was simply that I'm not a great sports fan, and that and the fact that I'm not Canadian, eh, means that I know less than nothing about hockey. The hockey story is the thing I found least interesting about Goon, it's not badly told, and the individual sequences feature some bone-crunchingly convincing and often pretty funny violence, but even in the final game the stakes feel pretty low, and while the clash of the titans between Scott and Schrieber delivers as a fight, it never feels hugely important.

I warmed to this film largely thanks to Seann William Scott's performance (which has to rank somewhere in the Top 50 sentences I never thought I'd need to type). Doug Glatt is basically the inverse of his American Pie alter-ego, Steve Stifler; he may be paid because he's great at punching people on the head, but Glatt is a gentleman to a fault, doing his job on the ice, but always apologising to the people he beats up, doggedly but politely pursuing Eva, and taking his lumps willingly when he has to. The role allows Scott to stretch acting muscles I wasn't sure he had, particularly when he tries to reach out to his disappointed parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David). I wished the film had leant a little more heavily on the relationship storyline between Doug and Eva, because while Goon is by no means a romantic comedy their various dates and almost dates are funny, and the relationship is one you root for because both of them are good, likeable, people (amazing that a sports comedy gets right what almost every rom-com of the last five years has got so wrong). It also bears mentioning that Alison Pill is adorable as Eva, and really ought to be getting more work and be a bigger name than she is.

Some parts of the narrative can feel undernourished (I suspect the Blu Ray will have a large deleted scenes section), but the film gets by on a set of broad but enjoyable performances Schrieber is perhaps best, his Canadian accent seems dead on, but it's the sadness you feel from him when Rhea and Glatt meet over coffee, that really feels much more affecting than you'd expect. Also worth singling out in the ensemble are Richard Clarkin and Kim Coates as, respectively, the Captain and Coach of Doug's team. The only real letdown, for me, came from co-screenwriter Jay Baruchel, whose off-screen contributions are more rewarding than his shrill turn as Doug's best friend.

On the whole, Goon is flawed, but I enjoyed it warts and all, it's well worth taking a chance on.

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