Score: A Hockey Musical screens as part of the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday September 12th at Varsity 8. It was also the opening gala of TIFF.
I'm not technically Canadian and nor do I claim to be. I describe Canada as my adopted country and I think that goes both ways. Canada has taken me in and I have earned a lot of great opportunities by being here. As a film junkie there really are few places I could think of that are better than Toronto (or even British Columbia). Next to New York and Paris I can not think of a better film city. Sorry, Boston. You are my hometown, but are still a solid 4th place when it comes to filming locations. I simply love the area and the International Film Festival that takes place in T-Dot is one of the highlights of my year.
Which is why writing this review is going to be so hard for me.
Score: A Hockey Musical attempts to combine three things that I enjoy very much into one overstuffed package: hockey, musicals, and Canadian culture. Sadly, it is too light and too wrongheaded on the first count, too inept on the second, and way too overbearing on the third.
Enjoy this trailer, sponsored by Swiss Chalet:
Noah Reid stars as Farley Gordon, a hockey prodigy (in so much as he has never even tried playing on an organized level before) who is drafted straight out of homeschooling by the owner of the Brampton Blades (played by Stephen McHattie in a really fun performance and one of the film's highlights) to play for him. There are only three problems standing in Farley's quest for success: his peace loving activist parents can't stand the game (one of whom is played by a dazed looking Olivia Newton John; still looking like she is high off Xanadu to this day), Farley himself abhors the violent nature of the game and its fights, and he is neglecting the girl next door who pines for him (played by Allie MacDonald, showcasing the best musical chops and looks in the film).
I am a firm believer that you can make a musical about pretty much anything and make it work. If there is something in life that can not be expressed or enhanced through the use of music, I don't know what it is. Maybe in the hands of a filmmaker like Bruce MacDonald a film like this could have been a subversive musical masterpiece. Sadly, Michael McGowan, the man behind the equally Canadian and better-yet-still-very-flawed One Week, is not that director. When you make a musical you simply need to understand the dynamics of how one works at a basic level. McGowan is in way over his head. The actors don't seem to know where they are half the time, the stagings are far too intense for his skill level (and it shows), and the musical cues range from meh to downright sloppy. Next to an unfunny comedy (which despite a few laughs, this largely is) there is nothing sadder than a musical that falls flat on its face.
But that really doesn't seem like the biggest problem with the film. Maybe I am cynical to some degree, but Score doesn't feel so much like a film that gives the audience exactly what they want as it feel like a film that is downright pandering for affection. Do you remember the maple syrup and Michael Buble drenched closing ceremonies to the 2010 Winter Olympics? If you do and you enjoyed just how over-the-top in its Canadianism it was, then Score might be the greatest film you have ever seen. This is really the TIFF equivalent of those very ceremonies.
I can understand the concept of making a film about Canadians for Canadians. This is a film that will very likely never be heard from again after the festival and outside of its home country and to its credit it seems perfectly fine with that distinction. It can inspire a feeling of national pride in someone, and it would work much better if it was written explicitly for the ten year old child in all of us. Sadly, this film feels like it was written not for our inner child, but for an actual child. But then again, with all the innuendo in the film, it really doesn't seem fit for a child either. So who is this film really aimed at? The hockey really sucks. All the musical numbers sound the same. The leads try their best, but their director is in over his head. Worst of all, other than trying to pander to a general Canadian sense of identity, this is a film without a real audience. Even the lead character seems so named because it just might be the most stereotypically Canadian name ever.
On the other hand, I do have to praise one thing that Score gets absolutely correct, and that is the film's subtle digs at turning young athletes into overnight stars. Those scenes are the ones where Score is at its best. Hockey fans who decry the Sidney Crosby-ization of the sport will likely enjoy this element greatly. The rest, sadly, is only good as a mild diversion. It is background noise for kids and harried parents warming up after a long day of sledding, snowball fights, shinny, and things far more exciting to do in Canada than watching this movie.
Rating (out of 4 stars): **