Just a game?
ELLE Canada reviews TIFF opener Score: A Hockey Musical
By Ava Baccari, Photography courtesy of Score website
While the Toronto International Film Festival opens tonight, I got to see it’s opening gem, Score: A Hockey Musical, at a press screening a few days back. You might recall my skepticism, or uncertainty rather, as to whether the film fit the bill to open the world-class cultural film festival, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Let’s contextualize: last year’s festival opener, Creation, a flick about the life of Darwin, was oriented in Victorian England. This year’s choice sees a wunderkind hockey player from Toronto watch his career unfold on an OHL team based in Brampton, Ontario. Somewhere Russell Peters is laughing.
The player is 17-year-old rookie, Farley Gordan (Noah Reid) plucked from a manmade shinny rink and thrown into the world of professional hockey—a world director Michael McGowan shows us is filled with boys named Moose who tattoo their team’s logo onto their bodies, write their names with urine into the snow and only occasionally cry during The Notebook. Now imagine Farley, home-schooled by his Bohemian hipster parents (Olivia Newton-John and Marc Jordan) and regularly contemplating the meaning of life (blah blah blah) with his secretly crushing-on-him BFF Eve (Allie MacDonald) at the newly unveiled atrium at the AGO.
The cast of characters is charming and spans the spectrum of Canadian stereotypes: the crazed hockey fan (Nelly Furtado), the fast-talking, ridiculous suit-sporting commentator (George Stroumboulopoulos), and the I-am-man-hear-me-roar coach (John Pyper-Ferguson.) Given the raw sentimentality of it all, we somehow must find the strength to forgive the lyrical score. As Farley is ostracized by his fellow teammates for his preference for quoting Gandhi rather than throwing fists, such didactic enlightenment through song unfortunately is not uncommon: “Hockey without fighting is like Kraft Dinner without cheese/ yes it’s still pasta/ but the palate it won’t please.”
Yes, it’s easy to look at what’s being presented as the Canadian dream and ask yourself, “Really?” Is our national sport one big boy’s club where players like Farley are reduced to fairies on ice for keeping their gloves on and having all their original teeth? But McGowan shows us a Toronto, a Canada we haven’t really seen before; where sitting under the CN Tower illuminated at night evokes the same cathartic grandeur for audiences as the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building might. Could Toronto really be a part of some geographic mythology only known to places like Paris and New York?
Even if the rest of the world has no idea what Brampton or the Red River is, McGowan gives the rest of the world a chance to get to see our unique dreams and funny accents. At best, they’ll use our national sport as a lens to view a small fraction of the Canadian experience and maybe get to know us a little better. At worst, they’ll laugh at its absurdity. I know I did.