I’m not a fan of hockey or of Canadian film, but when I heard about Score: A Hockey Musical, I knew I had to go, because more than anything I like to have fun watching a movie. Combining hockey and musicals sounded like a fun idea to me. It was the opening night film at the Toronto Film Festival and I’ve been seeing previews for it for months in the preshow that Empire Theaters puts on before the movie. But if you haven’t heard of it, the story goes like this:
A sheltered teenage hockey phenom decides to play organized hockey, but runs into trouble when his pacifist attitude clashes with the culture of hockey violence.
And if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. For a movie about hockey, it didn’t generate much interest. It was me and about five high schoolers (possibly from the drama club) in the cinema for an opening weekend showing. Perhaps everyone else had read the advance reviews from the film festivals and decided not to bother. More likely they either didn’t hear of it or they don’t trust Canadian movies enough to pay $11.50 for a ticket. I don’t blame them. We don’t have much of a track record. Is Score going to change all that? Well, maybe.
The movie follows a 17 year old boy named Farley Gordon (Noah Reid) who’s homeschooled and has never watched TV but plays fabulous hockey against the guys who hang out at the local rink. He’s got a pair of hippie/anarchist parents (Olivia Newton John and Marc Gordon) who want to take him backpacking across Chechnya so he can practice his Russian…
They’re snooty and wacky and hilarious and easily my favorite part of the film.
Farley’s also got a girl-next-door best friend named Eve (Allie MacDonald) who plays the cello and has a crush on him. Life is simple until the owner of the Brampton Blades (Stephen McHattie) discovers him and convinces him to play organized hockey. This is a conflict because Farley doesn’t believe in violence, and the reason that half the people in Canada like hockey is because of the fights.
Oh dear me, they seem rather aggressive.
His teammates, who nickname him “Peacock,” are the kind of people who light farts on fire and pee their names in the snow (i.e. guys) so if Farley wants to fit in he’s got to assimilate, which means fart lighting, snow peeing, and punching people in the face. It’s a good setup, but they go a little too overboard with the fighting obsession (I don’t really think people would react that badly if a player didn’t want to fight) and the way they solve the problem in the end is just stupid, given the attitudes they’ve established the other players and fans have.
Hooray! We needed to end the movie somehow!
But overally, the story’s not too bad. Paradoxically, Score: A Hockey Musical would’ve been a better film if it hadn’t been a musical. There are a couple of fun songs, like the song they sing when they’re all fighting each other (the lyrics go: “jab jab hook hook kidney punch”) but most of them sound the same, and a lot of times they’re just singing their conversations while they’re walking around or standing in front of each other.
We’re in the Royal Ontario Museum. Shouldn’t we be dancing around dinosaur skeletons and diamonds?
In a musical, you expect more dancing, more overblown production numbers, more fantasy. Score’s musical numbers were actually quite boring with the possible exception of the big on-ice dance-off at the end.
“Hockey, hockey, the greatest game in the world” (it’s unfortunately catchy)
Another problem is that songs in musicals should flow off the actors’ tongues like Dr. Seuss’s poems. They don’t need to make sense, they just need to sound natural when they’re sung and express the feelings the scene is meant to convey (which a normal movie would do though dialogue). Michael McGowan, the film’s director, wrote the song lyrics himself. This was a mistake. His only other movies have been non-musicals, so his lyrics essentially are just rhyming lines of dialogue. On top of that, he was messing with the meter to jam in clever words like “embargo,” and the actors, despite their best efforts, were stumbling though these sections. When the actors stumble, we notice, we remember we’re watching a movie, and it ruins our immersion in the story.
Has hockey corrupted my very soul?
It was always a game and never a life goal.
This guy, Farley’s rink rat buddy, is particularly bad. I can’t find his name anywhere.
If you’re gonna sing, sing. If you’re gonna talk, talk. Don’t go halfsies. I’d get after them for it, but I suspect that most of the time they didn’t have a choice, because they were hired to be in a musical but they can’t sing. If you cannot sing, you should not be in a musical. Michael McGowan throws this cardinal rule of musicals out the window so he can pack his film with cameos from famous Canadians like Theo Fleury and Wayne Gretsky’s dad.
Great hockey dad? Yes. Great singer? No.
My conclusion is that the biggest problem with the film was you, Michael McGowan. Direct: yes. Write: by all means. But you should’ve let someone else write the songs, and you shouldn’t have compromised the quality of the movie just to have cameos. But you know what? I applaud you for at least trying to make a peppy, engaging, fun Canadian movie. It was a good idea, but it didn’t quite work in the end. Do you know why that is? Some people think we can’t make good movies because we’re too obsessed with being Canadian. That’s not the problem. I mean, the Australians make movies that are very Australian, but they still do well outside of Australia (e.g. Australia, Rogue, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert).
Fun + Distinctiveness + Quality = Success. Remember that formula.
The problem is that Canadians don’t have much practice in making these types of films. For so long we’ve been so obsessed with being anti-Hollywood that we ended up making fractured, depressing dramas that no one likes. But I think if you and Jacob Tierney and Paul Gross keep chipping away at the wall between us and fun, we’ll eventually get there. And we won’t have to sacrifice being Canadian to do it.