Like a disputed goal, hockey movies need to be reviewed. More accurate than the War Room in Toronto, more exciting than a referee’s microphone malfunction, it’s PITB’s Under Review. Next up is 2010′s Score: A Hockey Musical starring Noah Reid and Allie MacDonald. Fair warning: spoilers will occur.
Ruling on the Ice: Good goal. This movie is far more fun than I anticipated, with a genuine love of hockey and some remarkably witty dialogue. While not without its problems and certainly not for everyone, Score is a much better movie than reviews would indicate. In fact, in many ways, this is a better hockey movie than Youngblood, which I reviewed last week. The comment section for you to release your anger and vitriol is located at the bottom of the post. You may need to scroll for a little while.
Score: A Hockey Musical is a pairing of two unlikely high concepts: first, a musical set in the world of hockey and second, an undiscovered wunderkind who, despite not playing an organized game of hockey in his life, takes that same hockey world by storm, to the point of getting (repeatedly) compared to Sidney Crosby.
Unlike basketball, hockey doesn’t have the equivalent of Rafer “Skip 2 My Lou” Alston or Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, players who made their name on the streets before going onto success as professional players. The closest would likely be Alex Burrows, who cut his teeth in ball hockey before working his way up to playing on the best first line in the NHL. So Score‘s tale of a homeschooled kid with incredible hockey skill who goes undiscovered until he’s 17 has some undeniable appeal.
Let’s face it, who hasn’t dreamed of being “discovered” while playing a pick-up game of hockey or imagined that one guy who dominates everyone every Thursday night could actually be a star in the NHL? At least it would make you feel better about getting schooled if the guy doing the schooling was a legitimate talent.
Score adds the unlikely element that Farley Gordon, the titular talent, doesn’t realize how good he is as he has never played a game of organized hockey in his life (and doesn’t even know who Crosby is). His parents have sheltered him from such pursuits and have raised him as a pacifist. The main conflict of the movie should then be immediately evident: Farley has phenomenal skill but refuses to fight. It’s finesse versus physicality. Similar to Youngblood, our protagonist won’t (or can’t) fight, which threatens to cost him his opportunity to be a star.
The difference between Score and Youngblood is that Score resolves the conflict in a way that actually makes sense and doesn’t make a mockery of the plot. Also, there’s singing and dancing.
Yes, Score is unrepentantly goofy, but it embraces that goofiness and uses it to give the movie an undeniable charm. It also makes it a movie that not everyone will enjoy. Marrying a stereotypically masculine sport like hockey with a stereotypically feminine genre like musical theatre leads to some odd results that some — generally those uncomfortable with blurred gender boundaries — might negatively respond to.
The film uses this odd juxtaposition to make some interesting observations on masculinity in hockey and what it means to be a man. The team that Farley joins believes that hitting, fighting, and peeing in the snow are manly; pacifism definitely isn’t. But when the fighting devolves into a choreographed line brawl and the team’s enforcer breaks into song, the movie blurs the line and it’s clearly intentional. Can a man be a man if he doesn’t fight? More pressingly, can his teammates consider him a brother if he won’t defend himself? What about honour and standing up for the team?
This may seem remarkably silly and unrealistic — after all, the entire reason for enforcers to exist in hockey is to protect star players from having to fight their own battles — but it seems particularly pertinent after the most recent Stanley Cup Final. In game 6, after the Bruins were comfortably ahead, Brad Marchand took the opportunity to punch Daniel Sedin repeatedly after a whistle, while Daniel refrained from retaliation. Daniel was vilified as a coward for refusing to fight back. And if you don’t think this is about gender, take a look at what people called him: a sister and a euphemism for the female genitalia. It was suggested that he “grow a pair.” In other words, they questioned his masculinity.
Seen in this light, Score is more than just light entertainment: it’s an important commentary on masculinity in sports. Farley comes out of nowhere to take the hockey world by storm, getting featured on the cover of The Hockey News, getting interviewed by Steve Kouleas on Hardcore Hockey, and signing an endorsement deal for men’s underwear (leading to a massive billboard that’s more than a little reminiscent of Undresler). After his refusal to fight in the above clip and the revelation of his pacifism, Farley’s manhood is questioned and his ability to compete in the far more physical NHL is thrown into doubt. His status as the consensus #1 pick in the upcoming draft takes a nosedive and, like Daniel Sedin, it is intimated that he bears a strong resemblance to female genitalia.
So what is the answer? What possible action can Farley take? If he fights, he goes against everything he believes in. If he doesn’t fight, he risks losing his friendships with his teammates and his future in hockey itself. To make matters worse, the inner conflict makes him start to hate hockey altogether. He can still dominate on the ice with his skill, but opposing players begin taking liberties with him knowing he won’t respond. His teammates shun him, not because they expect him to be good at fighting, but because he won’t fight at all. They feel that his refusal shames the team, casting them all in a less-masculine light.
In the midst of this intriguing and enlightening confluence of hockey and music is a romantic subplot that is relentlessly dull. Farley and Eve have been next door neighbours and friends since they were small children, with Eve harbouring a secret crush and Farley having no idea whatsoever. The subplot hits all the romantic comedy cliches. In song. In painfully awkward song. The closest this comes to bearing on the main conflict of masculinity in hockey is the suggestion that he needs to “man up” and express his feelings to her. In the end, he wins the girl through the power of melodrama. Seriously, when your romantic subplot is too melodramatic for a musical, something has gone horribly wrong.
Fortunately, his frustrations over these romantic difficulties combined with his on-ice frustrations to serve as an impetus for violence and thus further the plot. In a game against the same team and goalie that led to the embarrassing refusal to fight, Farley finally throws down his gloves. Like in Youngblood, he wins the fight, though it’s not as unlikely in this case: he’s fighting a goalie rather than a well-practiced enforcer and has the benefit of his pent-up rage and frustration. He then does the only thing possible: he quits the team.
Unable to reconcile his personal beliefs with his love for playing hockey, Farley remains true to himself and gives up hockey. It’s a development that rings true to his character. Of course, the movie can’t end there. After some soul-searching, Farley realizes that he still loves hockey and can’t resist its siren song.
Because this is a musical comedy, the conflict needs to be resolved in as pleasant a manner as possible, so that everyone can participate in the big song and dance number at the end. In order for Farley to return the team, he needs to face the spectre of fighting without succumbing to violence himself. In essence, how can he be a man in a world whose definition of masculinity flies in the face of his own beliefs? In an odd twist, he attacks the manhood of those who would attack his. Instead of fighting, he drops the gloves and hugs his opponent.
In a way, Farley combats being brought down to his opponent’s level by bringing them down to his own. Afraid of looking like less of a man, his opponent agrees not to try to fight him. Everyone cheers, everyone sings, everyone is happy. It’s ludicrous. It’s absurd. And yet, somehow it all works. Farley manages to show that masculinity is more about standing up for what you believe in and being true to yourself, wonderfully heartwarming and cheesy. It’s an ending that can only happen in a musical. Fortunately, then, it is one.
But it’s not a perfect musical. Other than a few exceptions, the songs are largely forgettable, bearing a closer resemblance to dialogue with a melody than actual songs with memorable hooks. It’s also clear that the main characters (and many of the minor characters) are not trained dancers. The choreography and dancing are generally amateur, with a few exceptions. In some ways, this is part of the movie’s charm. It feels authentic, but your mileage may vary.
As for the dialogue, it’s surprisingly witty and clever: it’s not quite Aaron Sorkin’s “Sports Night,” but it’s playful and humorous. Noah Reid brings sincerity and charisma to the lead role as Farley, Stephen McHattie is superb as Walt Acorn, the owner of the Brampton Blades, and Dru Viergever is fantastic as The Moose, Farley’s enforcer. Somehow, singer Nelly Furtado ends up in a non-singing role, which is baffling, and George Stroumboulopoulos brings nothing to the table in his portrayal as a sports announcer, but other than that, it’s a decent enough cast.
The biggest issue with Score, and the likely reason it was a flop, is that its target audience is far too small. It’s overtly Canadian, to the point of scaring off non-Canadians. It’s a love song to the game of hockey with numerous inside references for hockey fans that will scare off those who don’t like the game. And then it’s an intentionally goofy and cheesy musical that tackles the sensitive issue of masculinity in a sport that has a bit of an ugly history with homophobia. Not all hockey fans will respond well when Farley sings in response to the male camaraderie of the hockey team with a tongue in cheek “Wow, it feels great to have boyfriends!”
Upon Further Review: Score still holds up under scrutiny, though it has some significant flaws. The entire romantic subplot should have been scrapped and rewritten, but the core of the movie — the juxtaposition of singing and dancing with the violence of hockey as a way to commentate on masculinity in sport — holds up remarkably well. Still, not everyone will like this movie and there’s a good chance that many of you will hate it. A cheesy take on something that is often taken so seriously runs the risk of alienating its audience, even if the cheese is used to make a salient point.
Best Hockey Play: Sadly, the on-ice play is rarely shown to full effect, though Farley shows some slick moves and scores a few nice goals, including a between the legs gem similar to Daniel Sedin’s beauty on Miikka Kiprusoff just prior to his fight that makes him quit the team. What’s most impressive is that, according to the extra features on the DVD, Noah Reid did all his own “stunts.”
Most Ludicrous On-Ice Moment: Shockingly, this goofy and ludicrous movie manages to avoid goofy and ludicrous hockey. There are no trick plays or oddball skills. Sure, the bench-clearing brawls are over-the-top and the referees are as ineffective as they are in every other hockey movie, but there’s nothing overly bizarre or crazy. It’s biggest fault is in failing to show hockey as a team sport, as everything is essentially a solo effort for Farley, who doesn’t pass to his teammates and needs only The Moose to throw a few hits to clear space for him to work.
Player I Would Draft: Farley Gordon. You don’t pass up that kind of skill, especially when no one else in the movie displays any skill whatsoever. He’ll need to learn to use his teammates, though.
Final Word: With Christ Ratz’s turn as Maurice the goalie who, like Glenn Hall before him, vomits before every game, this makes two movies in a row with a French Canadian netminder.
Past Under Reviews:featured, Masculinity, Score: A Hockey Musical, spotlight, Under Review