Opening this weekend in cities where hockey is played with board-crashing abandon* is GOON, a rambunctiously violent comedy about a player whose sole purpose on the ice is to protect his team's best player from intimidation or injury. He is not expected to score or facilitate any kind of offense; he is simply expected to drop the gloves when necessary, and pummel the opposing team's tough guy with his bare knuckles. It is a longstanding tradition: Wayne Gretzky had Marty McSorley, Steve Yzerman had Bob Probert, and Brett Hull had Tony Twist.
In GOON, Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) has Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a sweet-natured bouncer who finds himself in demand as an enforcer after cold cocking a bush-league brawler who storms into the stands to attack Doug's best friend (Jay Baruchel). Even though Doug can barely stay upright on skates, he is hell with his fists, which is good enough to land him on the Halifax Highlanders, the minor league squad to which the spiraling-downward Laflamme has been consigned. The hope is that Glatt's presence will assuage Laflamme's fear of getting hit, something that's been on his mind since all-time goon Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) blindsided him three years ago (leaving Laflamme seriously concussed). Of course, it just so happens that the aging Rhea has been put out to minor-league pasture, meaning that a Glatt-Rhea bout for the ages is in the offing.
GOON is probably the best hockey movie since SLAP SHOT (the greatest hockey movie of all time), but it is much closer in spirit to ROCKY thanks in large part to the rowdy, but surprisingly heartfelt screenplay by Baruchel and Evan Goldberg. For Baruchel, this was a natural fit; he's a lifelong hockey fanatic with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport's history. For Goldberg, however, it was something of a departure; though born and raised in Canada, he has at best a passing interest in the sport. Perhaps most importantly, it was also his first time writing a feature screenplay with someone other than his SUPERBAD/PINEAPPLE EXPRESS/GREEN HORNET partner-in-crime Seth Rogen. According to Goldberg, this was a completely different process (primarily due to the fact that he was rarely in the same room with Baruchel during the writing), but one that he found totally rewarding. And if he didn't come out on the other end a bigger fan of hockey, at least he can boast that he co-wrote the sport's equivalent of David S. Ward's original MAJOR LEAGUE (and this is high praise coming from a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan).
Mr. Beaks: This movie makes me miss my childhood. I grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio, which was a big-time hockey town in the 1980s, and I think you guys got this world as right as anyone has.
Evan Goldberg: Thank you.
Beaks: Where did you get the idea to center a story on a goon, a guy whose sole purpose it is on the ice to fight? And how did you go about making this guy relatable?
Goldberg: When Seth and I write movies, we always talk about how well the start of SUPERBAD works, in that Jonah Hill gets spit on by a bully, and from that moment on you realize he's being a dick because people are mean to him and he's insecure. So when Jay and I were discussing this character, we discussed exactly what you were saying: he has to be someone who can beat the shit out of a jerk, and do some asskicking when it needs to be done, but also be someone you really care about. That was probably the most delicate part of the movie: figuring out how to make people sympathetic towards him, while still kind of making him an intimidating physical threat. I just think all of the little things that Seann and [director] Michael Dowse brought to it are what made it work; if that was directed or acted poorly, what we wrote would've never been portrayed correctly in any manner. The nuances are what sell the character. If Seann didn't know how to emote sympathy properly, it doesn't matter what we wrote, it would've been shit.
Beaks: I've read that Jay is kind of a bigger hockey fan than you.
Goldberg: Yeah, he's got mental issues. Jay is the biggest hockey fan ever. Ever, ever, ever. You would have to be mentally unstable to be a bigger fan. He's as big a fan as someone can be while still keeping it within the realm of possibility.
Beaks: He's teetering on the verge.
Goldberg: Jay Baruchel is a modern day Shakespeare.
Beaks: (Laughs) That's going to be the headline.
Goldberg: I just said that because Seth poked his head in the room, and I wanted to make him laugh. But he is.
Beaks: Did you look at infamous goons, guys like Bob Probert or Tie Domi, for inspiration in writing the character of Doug?
Goldberg: Not even a little. I don't know who those people are. I'm not a hockey nut. I'm just a Stanley Cup fan, and this movie was my learning process. I didn't watch hockey as a kid. I know who Trevor Linden was, and Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky and I'm kind of running out of names now. These days, I know who the Sedins are. I know who Sidney Crosby is, and I know that people like to shout "Lou!" for the Vancouver goalie [Roberto] Luongo. But that's about all I've got. Jay is the one who had all the hockey knowledge, and we tried to meet in the middle on that shit to make sure that I, as someone who doesn't know a lot, and Jay, who knows who every single goon is and every single fact about all of them... we could make sure that both of us would be happy, that both sections of the audience would be happy.
Beaks: So how did you strike that balance? Were there times when Jay would insist that something be included because it happened in a real game?
Goldberg: I don't know if I can fully speak for Jay, because this is one of those times when we [would send the script back and forth] because we were rarely in the same city. But I don't think either of us are the type of writer to say, "Remember in this game? We could do that move!" We both really enjoyed coming up with what happened, just picturing it and talking about the action. Jay and I are very similar, but quite different: I like comedy and action, and he likes horror and comedy; he likes documentaries about conspiracies, and I like documentaries about murders. We just have very different tastes in a lot of ways, so finding the middle ground, as opposed to when I work with Seth, was much easier because we were more polar in our opinions at times. But since we have the same taste in the end, even though we spike in different points, we managed to find a middle ground on everything. The story about Eva and Doug was probably what we argued about the most, because that was the trickiest thing to get right; we both had very different opinions on that. He'd say something, and I'd say he's crazy; then I'd say something, and he'd say I don't know what I'm talking about. Then we'd say, "Okay, what about this?" And then we'd come to a simple conclusion.
Beaks: What was the conflict on Eva?
Goldberg: It was "How slutty is too slutty?"
Beaks: I was thinking that might be it.
Goldberg: There was a version that was not slutty at all, and there was a version that was extremely slutty. And in the writing process, we just did them all. And in making the movie, the guys on the set - because I was only there a few days - made sure to cover their asses so that they could make her sluttier or less slutty. In the end, I am really impressed with the editing as to how that sluttiness struck a proper balance. In the theater, when she expresses that in the third act in the emotional scene between her and Doug, people laugh their asses off, and they clap and they're really excited. It really feels good to see that the joke worked and that people got it. I was really worried that people weren't going get it, that it would be offensive. In the end, Jay was kind of right; he kept saying, "There are girls who are slutty just like guys who are slutty, and if we do it right, people will see it as a real character instead of a joke slutty character." I was just so afraid it was going to come across as, "Oh, I'm a bimbo slut!" But Alison Pill... I'm sure she could play a bimbo if she wanted to because she's a great actress, but that's not what you get when you look at that face. She seems intelligent and sweet. I think with another actress that joke might've bombed.
Beaks: Did you look at the concussion issue as it relates to the goon role in hockey? A lot of guys, when they finish their careers, they end up suffering persistently from these concussions, and it only gets worse as they get older.
Goldberg: I, for one, will say right off the bat that I know nothing about this topic. I have not followed it at all. I don't really understand what's happened to these guys because, as I said before, I'm not a manic hockey fan. I'm just starting to learn about hockey in reality. But there's a shelf life in boxing before you're going to seriously damage yourself. Everything has its time, and it sounds like a lot of people are pushing themselves further than they should. If you're a hockey goon, when it's time to throw in the towel, you throw in the towel because it can be very dangerous; it's a contact sport. To pop pills to keep going and going... it's understandable: people want to do what they're passionate about. I keep thinking what if the more I wrote, the more I'd get arthritis. That would be brutal, and that's kind of the situation they're in. They like to be in the sport, and they love to do what they love to do. But this is where they're the most useful, and it makes it so that you can't play as long. I think it's like everything else in life: it's a balancing act. I don't have any opinion on individuals of late and their trials, but it's a delicate thing. If you say because you get concussions that you shouldn't be allowed to hit each other, well, then let's cancel football and all of the sports in the world. But people like to play sports and they like to watch sports, and you have to strike as healthy a balance as you can - and sometimes people can't, and sometimes they're just unlucky. I don't really know a lot about this topic, but I'm going on a long flight in a few hours, and I just determined this morning that I'm going to sit down and read about this because people keep asking me about it and I have shitty answers.
Beaks: (Laughs) No, that's a totally honest and eloquent answer. As a hockey fan growing up, I loved tough guys. And my favorite tough guy, Bob Probert, is now dead. So it's a tricky thing for me as a hockey fan to deal with that.
You mentioned earlier that you were often in different cities writing. Could you contrast this with how you write with Seth?
Goldberg: Seth and I will always try to sit at a desk beside each other and look at each other in the eye. So would Jay and I if we were together, I imagine. But since we rarely had that opportunity, we would talk on the phone a lot: he would write a scene, send it to me, and I would say, "I don't like it" and write a different version, or I would say, "This is absolutely fantastic," and then I'd punch up this and that. Sometimes we'd get in arguments where he'd say, "You don't know what you're talking about because you don't know hockey" - which was not as contentious as it sounds because it's a fact. He knows so much, and I don't. But then we'd bring it to our associate producers, Ariel Shaffir and Kyle Hunter, who work at our company currently and write for us. They both love hockey, but one is a new hockey fan and one is an older hockey fan, so we'd bring shit to them for tiebreakers. We slowly whittled it away until it was the appropriate film.
Beaks: I've got to ask: did you look at SLAP SHOT?
Goldberg: Honestly, we didn't review it or anything. Obviously, we've both seen it a billion times. Everyone knows SLAP SHOT, and it is, I presume, the most famous hockey movie of all time. Though I don't know... maybe THE MIGHTY DUCKS is more famous. That's got young kids [into hockey], too.
Beaks: Yeah, it's a film franchise, and it spawned an actual NHL franchise.
Goldberg: Obviously, we can't make a movie like this without referencing SLAP SHOT in some discussions. But SLAP SHOT, the one thing we definitely share in common with that movie is that they both go for it. SLAP SHOT was just, "Fuck it, we're going to make the movie we're going to make, and we're going to make it crazy." I feel like the realities are very different, and the styles of comedy are different, but there are always similarities, like the locker room talk and shit like that. I feel like it's not an homage to SLAP SHOT, but it should be right beside it in the movie store. Wait, movie stores don't exist anymore. On iTunes.
Beaks: Watching this movie, it struck me as strange that it's not coming out on 3,000 screens. It's got that ROCKY thing; it gathers momentum, and builds to an incredibly rousing finale. I think Magnet's doing a great job with the movie, but it just feels like it should be a major studio release. Was the violence an issue?
Goldberg: I have no idea. I wasn't a producer on the film. This is one of those movies where I just wrote it and was helping out with the creative elements. Who knows? Also, right next to my goon reading material, I really need to read up on this Video on Demand. I don't really know the logic behind the decision. There's gotta be a good reason it's happening.
Beaks: Yeah, because it's a real crowd pleaser. And like I said, I can't think of another hockey movie aside from SLAP SHOT that gets it this right. Maybe YOUNGBLOOD.
Goldberg: I like YOUNGBLOOD, but I haven't seen it in twelve years. I can't remember if it's actually great or not.
Beaks: It is great in its way. And Cynthia Gibb is really hot in that movie, so there's that. As for your own work as a writer, do you have anything you're writing independently of Seth?
Goldberg: Nah. Not at the moment. Everything I'm currently doing is with Seth. We really don't have anything else going on. We're really trying to start ourselves up as a production company; these guys Ariel and Kyle work with us, and we're about to make a movie with Seth and Jay as the stars. So really we're focused on making a company as producers, and the writing is mostly fueling our projects right now. I don't really have any urge to write alone ever. I sometimes write alone for fun, but the sad truth is I've been too busy to write alone lately. I often want to write short stories. To write a whole movie on my own seems much more lonely than sitting around shooting the shit with my friends. I write sad, sappy poetry when I'm alone.
There's nothing sad or sappy about GOON. It is a raucous good time at the movies, and well worth your money. Check it out in your local theater or at home on VOD (the film's official site has the full release schedule). And be on the lookout this summer for the Goldberg-Rogen-scripted NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH.