It’s last moments in a fight for the ages.
Our protagonist is quite literally on his last legs as his rival readies another flurry of punches. Their faces bloodied as the crowd around them roars, goading them on in their epic battle to see who’s the greatest.
The hero readies himself one final time to fight back. He’s taking blow after blow, waiting for the right moment to strike back when finally, he see’s his opening unleashing a beautiful counter hook to his opponent’s exposed jawline His adversary is felled, the crowd erupts in cheers, he embraces the woman he loves knowing victory is his and the music swells to an epic, dramatic crescendo just before the credits roll.
This might sound like the ending to the next “Creed” film but really it’s just describing the final moments of a fairly ridiculous movie where two meat-headed hockey enforcers brutishly exchange wild punches at each other while on skates.
(Hey, I’m just telling it like it is ehhh…)
But the scene in 2011’s cult hit “Goon” makes us feel like we are watching one of those movies when this happens and it’s why the movie is as good and hilarious as it is.
I’m not a fan of calling movies “Just dumb fun” because it typically misunderstands the quality of the film and a movie like “Goon” is a good example of a “dumb” film being actually pretty. Namely in its directing.
Its use of melodramatic ques that we expect from more serious sports films, bombastic opera music and plenty of dick jokes makes it perhaps one of the sharpest and most unique films of its genre.
(And no shortage of quotable dick jokes lines too.)
For those unfamiliar with the 2011 film, “Goon” stars Sean William Scott as Doug Glatt, a loser security guard who enjoys watching hockey. When he defends his friend at a hockey match from a player trying to attack the crowd, easily knocking the guy out he suddenly finds himself in the world of hockey enforcers and quickly see’s his stock and fortunes rise with it.
“Goon” is about as a hockey of a hockey film can get with its total embrace of the sports more Neanderthal-ish behavior, namely the on-ice fighting, and the highly exaggerated Canadian stereotypes but its script runs almost like a more dramatic boxing flick.
It has all the underpinnings of a more emotionally driven story; a lovable, albeit loser, underdog with a heart of gold discovers he has a skill that can bring him a higher quality of life, he encounters the challenges that come with his rise to fame, meets the love of his life along the way, before finally testing his might against the best proving once and for all that he can be great.
The difference is the sincere drama is played over the more absurd moments like a talented fuck-up hockey player doing lines off a strippers back, two guttural Russian players with a penchant for crude mother jokes and a best friend who drops plenty of F-bombs every chance he gets. This all while Doug navigates his career as a hockey player and tries to be the best version of himself he can become.
This creates some truly humorous melodrama because our hero has a compelling arc in Doug’s journey to “champion” goon of hockey and it’s played in synch to the film’s toilet humor. He’s violent yes but only when he needs to be, defends those who can’t defend themselves whether its his gay brother, crude best friend, his girlfriend Eva from sloppy drunks or his underachieving star teammate on the ice. He does so in such an over the top bloody manner but he is still nonetheless a charming character despite it. This all creates great humor in its own way but again not taking away from our heroes’ journey.
(Our hero is also selfless if not a little crazy.)
We root for him because we can all relate to feeling like a nobody as Doug feels early on in the film and despite his penchant for fist-fighting he shows that he understands right and wrong better than the other characters. When he finally meets his primary adversary Ross “The Boss” Ray, played with undeniable charm and joy by Liev Schreiber, it’s a culmination of that struggle of just a good guy trying to be the best he can be even if it’s something as silly as ice hockey brawling.
(Schrieber is such a God Damn professional.)
It would be easy to call this film simply “The Waterboy” on ice but it’s so much smarter than this and there’s no better proof of this than with the film’s use of opera music to elevate the drama of the film’s absurdist script.
When John Landis hired Elmer Bernstein, a classically trained composer, to create the music for “Animal House” it was considered an odd choice by many at the time. The man who composed such dramatic music for film’s like “The Ten Commandments,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “True Grit” was being asked now to create music for a movie about drunken frat boys terrorizing a fictional college campus. Bernstein was understandably confused as to where to start but then Landis told him to compose the music as if it were a serious film instead of a dramatic one and the result is an iconic scholarly theme played over one of the most ridiculous moments in comedy history.
(All is well!!)
Director Michael Dowse probably had the same idea when he decided to heavily feature Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot” throughout the film’s soundtrack. The choice of opera, specifically one about a man overcoming a number of challenges to earn the love of a princess, is definitely intentional and a fairly ingenious move by Dowse as it plays up the drama of “Goon’s” on-ice brawls to epic proportions making them feel twice as dramatic as they would feel otherwise.
When Doug finally beat Ross in the film’s climatic final scene the choice of “Turandot” to play over it is undeniably funny but also brings Doug’s dramatic journey full circle. You’re both laughing at the absurdity of the brutality hockey fighting and cheering on Doug as he claims his ultimate victory as he both fells his rival and embraces his girlfriend, he earned the affection of throughout the film.
(Sniffs it’s beautiful.)
“Goon” is that unique kind of “dumb” film that shows that a smart movie is all about intelligent directorial choices and not so much the “theme” of the story. A film can have something important to say but fail miserably at telling it while another can have nothing particularly poignant to tell but express it in an intelligent way. It’s why a film series like “John Wick” can be critically acclaimed and the last “Rambo” film failed.
“Goon” is an outside the box directed film about a less than bright hero that overcomes great odds to achieve greatness and shows that there is still plenty of room in Hollywood for dumb toilet humor if you’re willing to go the extra mile to make it sharper than its content.
It’s proof that if you treat your script, no matter how silly the premise is, with sincerity you can create something truly memorable.
Enjoy the 2019-2020 hockey season, everybody!
Turandot plays triumphantly in the background