I saw this when it was released, when it was given a tiny release [i.e. ONE small theater in one NYC multiplex] even though it was an absolutely delightful movie that deserved a much better rollout. I just made my Canadian boyfriend watch it, since it’s so sweet, for one, but also because it’s a Canadian movie that takes place largely in Canada and includes a lot of Canadian types. And it more than stood up—I really love this movie, and Seann William Scott should be a much bigger star than he is.
So apparently in hockey, which is a fervent religion in Canada, there is a position called an “enforcer,” and their role is essentially to beat members of the other team in any of the not strictly legal but not discouraged fights that erupt on the ice. It’s kind of one of those things you wouldn’t believe actually happens, and is openly tolerated, although I understand it’s not quite as open as presented in this movie.
We meet Scott as bar bouncer Doug Glatt at a hockey game with his friend, played by Jay Baruchel, who co-wrote the movie with Evan Goldberg. Someone on the ice calls Jay a fag, and Doug beats the guy up because his own brother is gay. Jay tapes it and broadcasts it on his local hockey TV show, and Doug is called to work on a hockey team, and soon transferred up to Halifax, where the bulk of the movie takes place. But the point is not lost, and it speaks to the overall sweetness of the film, that the first fight in the movie happens because Doug is defending his gay brother.
Seann William Scott is either truly stupid or is the great underappreciated actor of our day, because he is able to bring a completely convincing blank-faced sweetness to the dim-witted Doug, making him adorably simple but without the slightest trace of condescension or awareness that he is “playing stupid.” And the very well-written script appreciates the place of a simple, strong guy, and the virtues he can bring. Watching it a second time, I was struck by what a strange character he is for a film to be based around; just a very nice, loyal, protective, not-too-bright guy. Early in the film, Doug complains about not having a “thing” in life, like a specialty. Later, when his parents are horrified by his choice of vocation, he says “Let’s face it, I’m stupid, and this is something I can do.” When they protest, he repeatedly says: “No, I’m stupid.” It’s also shows the depths the film is willing to go that Doug’s parents walk out in disgust and the film never comes back to any reconciliation or sense that they changed their mind.
Because also, while this is ostensibly a sports movie, it is mostly a character film that is about Doug and the dynamics of his team [as well as a very sweet love story with the adorable Alison Pill]. You don’t have to follow the sports, although the film does a good job of explaining what’s going on during the games and why they matter. And it finds ways to make the scenes and interactions fresh and new, like the many courtship scenes which could have been very rote and banal.
What I really like about the film is that it doesn’t glorify the violence, it has a perspective on it that treats it as horrifying and a rather shocking tradition to carry on right out in the open of otherwise-progressive Canadian society. But it also doesn’t judge about it or try to bend it all into a very important lesson. Part and parcel to the treatment of the violence is the way the players are treated, which is as meat to be used until it is too damaged to be useful, when it will be thrown out. This is especially true of Liev Schreiber’s character, an enforcer on the way down, who provides an example of the not-exactly-glorious future that Doug can look forward to. The film is quite clear that Doug’s “dream” has a short expiration date and that he might be irreparably damaged by that time.
Everything that’s wonderful about this movie is tragically missing in its sequel, by the way, which we will discuss next.
Yeah, so watch it for sure, even if you don’t like hockey and don’t like sports films. It’s a lovely, funny and touching. And let’s find Seann William Scott something worthy of his talents.