If you were only to see the promotional poster for Goon, you would notice two things—Seann William Scott as a hockey player and as a goon. You’d probably make the assumption that Scott was reprising his role as Stifler in a raunchy sports comedy. And you couldn’t be further from the truth. In Goon, Seann William Scott delivers the best performance of his career, and his first fully dramatic. There were always strands of his potential, but they were always followed by one-step-back gags or superfluous crudeness—i.e., eating dog shit (mistaken for chocolate) in American Reunion to mask that he (as Stifler) allowed Michelle’s (Alyson Hannigan) parents’ dog to eat the bride and groom’s wedding rings.
After a more mature role in David Wain’s great buddy film Role Models, William Scott landed a starring role in the Jay Baruchel (Knocked Up, Tropic Thunder) penned nobody-turns-somebody Goon, and he never veers in his depiction of the reticent and loyal, albeit bruising, Doug Glatt. Doug’s bouncing at a dive sports bar in Boston. He’s unhappy with his position in life but knows his downfalls. As he tells his wealthy parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David), “You have two sons. One’s stupid and one’s gay.” Doug is the stupid one, so he thinks, and his gay brother is in medical school. All of this amidst the backdrop of Orthodox Judaism and his father is none too happy with Doug’s statement of absolutes.
Doug’s best friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel) produces and stars in a local hockey blogcast. Before going to a local minor league hockey game, Doug tells Ryan that everyone around him has something—Ryan has his hockey webcast, his brother has medical school, etc.—but he has nothing. Doug is not so much depressed as accepting; however, he does not yet know himself.
At the hockey game, a player in the penalty box and the heckling Ryan verbally assault one another for an extended period of time. The player calls Ryan a faggot, to which Doug takes offense: “My brother’s gay!” Doug proceeds to beat the player senseless with a string of right jabs. The local coach sees the fight and invites Doug to tryout for the team.
Doug cannot skate well, but coach isn’t looking for a skater. As the title suggests, he’s looking for a goon. Doug quickly proves himself as an enforcer on the ice. He is quickly sent up to a farm team in Halifax where he rooms with the team’s star, former NHL elite prospect Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) who was concussed by aging enforcer Ross Rhea (played with subtle brilliance by Liev Schreiber) and never recovered his greatness.
Now there’s a thin line that director Michael Dowse balances on here. Doug is bludgeoning other humans and fans love him for it. Why should we care about Doug, then? Well, Doug has a foil in Ross Rhea, who’s on the last legs of his career. It’s through a scene in a Canadian diner where Doug and Ross Rhea meet for the first time that we truly understand why Doug’s an empathetic character. I’ll leave it to you to judge how Rhea and Doug are different.
A continuing theme throughout the film is what constitutes an athlete. LaFlamme tells Doug that he’s not a player but a goon because Doug can not skate or gracefully dribble a puck the way that LaFlamme can. To Doug’s credit, he defends himself and tells LaFlamme that no matter what happens, Doug will have his teammate’s back on the ice. This is Doug’s greatest strength: he will do whatever it takes to be a great teammate, because it’s his nature to be a helper, a facilitator, a piece of a larger puzzle. He’s finally part of something, and he takes pride in it.
The film begs a look at great past sports duos. What would Michael Jordan have been without Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman? Kobe without Shaq? Or maybe more aptly, Wayne Gretzky without Jari Kurri? What’s certain is this: Doug Glatt makes Xavier LaFlamme a better player. Sometimes, we need someone else (maybe someone we don’t understand) to see the best in us to inspire our greatest potential. Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt proves that life is a team sport.