Goon: A Heartfelt Sports Comedy

A down-and-out bouncer discovers he has a talent for dolling out beatings in the hockey rink in Goon (2011), a surprising independent Canadian sports comedy film written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse. Aside from being well made, Goon features a solid, nuanced performance by Seann William Scott.

Despite dismal box office returns, Goon is almost universally praised by critics. It currently has a rating of 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I overlooked it many times, because although Seann William Scott has had funny side roles in some of my favorite comedies, I just couldn’t imagine him as a leading man. I was so wrong. In Goon, Scott proves he is a competent actor capable of breaking out of the fratbro trope.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a tough but polite simpleton, is working a dead end job as a bouncer. His friend, Pat (Jay Baruchel), hosts a public access hockey call-in show. One night at an Orangetown Assassins minor league game, Doug gets into a fight with a player and the Assassins coach invites him to join the team as their “enforcer.” When his skills on the ice improve, he’s recruited to play for the Halifax Highlanders and protect their star player, Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin), who is slow to recover from a brutal knockdown.

Along the way, he falls in love with Eva (Alison Pill), an adorkable hockey fan who sleeps around with hockey players, but is in a relationship, and discovers he might one day have to confront Ross “the Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), who was responsible for knocking out Xavier LaFlamme. Will he get the girl and defeat his rival?

Seann William Scott is an American actor predominantly known for playing Steve Stifler in the American Pie films, as well as a host of other moronic, comic-relief roles. His portrayal of Doug in Goon reveals a nuanced side and shows he is maturing as an actor. I was impressed by this performance, and like Matthew McConaughey, who began his career as a stoner “bro”, as Scott gets older he may successfully transition to more dramatic roles.

Alison Pill is a Canadian actress who played Kim Pine in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) and Maggie Jordan in the TV series The Newsroom (2012-2014), though she has been acting since childhood. Alison’s character, Eva, is a subverted version of Adrian from Rocky. As Doug’s love interest, Eva is not well-developed, which is a shame because even though their relationship is given plenty of screen time, she tends to fade into the background. We never learn much about her other than her passion for hockey and unfaithful promiscuity.

Goon doesn’t disguise its similarities with Rocky (1976), another film about a dimwitted but polite muscle who rises to prominence in a violent sport. Goon raises the violence in hockey to a level in which you almost forget the point of the game is to score goals. It focuses almost entirely on Doug’s bouts with the other players, and the exaggerated level of brutality would be gratuitous if it wasn’t so well-crafted.

Goon shares similarities with other films as well. A scene in which Doug Glatt meets Ross Rhea in a diner is reminiscent of the famous restaurant scene in Heat (1995). These callbacks to famous films is probably why Goon is so good, since the filmmakers decided to replicate proven success. Unfortunately, either the subject matter doesn’t really appeal to American audiences or the film wasn’t properly advertised, and it was not commercially successful. A sequel, Goon: Last of the Enforcers, came out this year to mediocre reception.

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