When I first got into hockey I did what I always do when I find a new fandom and consumed as much media as I could. I watched as many of the classic hockey movies as I could find, revisiting a couple that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. I watched Slap Shot, Miracle, The Mighty Ducks to name just a few, but the one that stands out, and the one that surprised me the most, was Goon.
Goon tells the story of Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a kind and well-meaning man who works security in a bar before finding himself hired to be an enforcer for his local hockey team. While Doug’s father and brother are both doctors, Doug is not a smart man and is struggling to find his place in the world.
On the surface I was expecting a violent and misogynistic movie akin to American Pie. Goon isn’t like that. One of the opening scenes has Doug fighting a man for using a homophobic slur. That, really, tells you everything you need to know about Doug’s character. He wants to protect people. He’s also very polite, asking the man he’s fighting to ‘take that word back, please’ and it’s only when the man uses it again that Doug finishes him off.
Doug’s worth is more than his ability to fight, though. After a few games with his local team his coach sends him to Canada to play for the team his brother coaches. He is tasked with protecting Xavier LaFlamme, a French-Canadian star player who is a shadow of his former self since getting hit and concussed by Ross ‘the boss’ Rhea, the antagonist of the movie. His coach suggests to Doug that maybe he can snap LaFlamme out of his funk, and adds that maybe he can snap the whole team awake. He sees what a positive influence Doug is, beyond his ability to fight.
The subplot involving Doug and Rhea building up to fight each other is almost incidental to the movie. Beyond a few minutes at the start Rhea doesn’t appear until about 20 minutes before the end of the movie. This story is about Doug, just by being who he is, teaching LaFlamme and the rest of the team to respect themselves and each other. And, in return, Doug gains a family who love and accept him for who he is when his own parents do not.
Although the movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel test the character of Eva, Doug’s love interest, is well written and treated respectfully. She’s not a prize that Doug wins for overcoming adversity, and she has her own life and agenda outside of Doug’s story. She’s open about the number of men that she sleeps with and this is never a source of ridicule or judgement. At one point she calls herself a slut and is surprised when Doug says it doesn’t bother him. He loves her for who she is and never condemns her or tries to change her. When she decides to stop sleeping around and just be with Doug the decision is entirely hers.
The most interesting relationship in the movie, however, is between Doug and LaFlamme. While Doug wins over the rest of his team relatively easily LaFlamme still sees Doug as a representation of his own failings. The fight between Doug and Rhea at the end of the movie is as much about Doug helping LaFlamme get past his own barriers as it is resolving the media created rivalry between them.
You can tell this movie was written by hockey fans, for hockey fans. There is an unwritten rule in hockey that says you do not step on the team logo on the floor of the locker room. Not only is it considered bad luck, but it’s also seen as a mark of disrespect.
In this movie the logo is used to represent the team and how they see themselves. Before Doug’s first game the entire team walks across the logo to get to the ice without giving it a second thought. The only one who doesn’t is Doug. He’s part of a team now and, for him, team is synonymous with family.
At one point LaFlamme lashes out after the coach gives him a talking to about his attitude in front of the entire team. He spits on the logo and Doug gets onto his knees to clean it up, showing everyone in the room that he respects the logo and what it stands for.
At around the halfway point the team is shown exiting the locker room again. By now Doug has helped them learn to respect themselves and to think like a team, like a family. Everyone walks around the logo except LaFlamme who isn’t there yet.
And, of course, before the final game of the movie the logo features in another prominent scene. I don’t want to spoil everything so I’ll leave it at that.
So, if you want a hockey movie full of warmth, heart, and a group of men learning how to be a family, I highly recommend giving Goon a try. Of all the hockey movies I’ve watched it’s the one I come back to repeatedly to cheer myself up.