This movie is probably racist, sexist, and homophobic. And I'm gonna talk about it, even though it's not remotely current.

Femmebot: Bringing you the creme de la crap since 2010.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"I'm Stupid, and He's Gay": Why I Didn't Hate Goon

On a snide day, I would characterize Goon (2011) as Rudy gets renovated for the Aptow crowd: your average underdog sports movie populated with dick-and-fart (ok, more like piss-and-herpes) jokes and "edgy," gladiator-esque hockey violence. And truly, any demonstrable value Goon gives us is delivered via these crass mechanisms of violence and lowbrow humor. Which I personally enjoy, to a point. I was about 50% sold on the artless fistfighting, the overdone "triumph of the human spirit: SPORTS!" narrative, and writer/supporting cast member Jay Baruchel's over-the-top obscenity. At first I dismissed Goon as the McFishandChips of film: cheap, forgettable, quick to leave the system, and maybe a little unpleasant as it does so. But I am pleased to report that there is at least one secretly gourmet aspect of this film for a low-culture-loving feminist to enjoy.

Masked in the hypermacho raunch of Goon is an alternative expression of masculinity. A quick glance at lead actor Sean William Scott's IMDB page and I realize I have not enjoyed a single movie I have seen him in: from the American Pie Franchise (Four white suburban boys learn the true meaning of Christmas sex? It's the kind of movie that makes me wish Affirmative Action worked the way my racist grandma thinks it works: every single white dude involved in the making of that film has to give up their spot in cinema to a more-qualified, under-appreciated disabled trans person of color), to Old School, to Cop Out, virtually everything in his filmography feels like overgrown adolescent heterosexual white male commercial filler: the blandest haddock of cinema. Despite the absurd overpopulation of these sorts of films, which are made at the expense of nonwhite, nonstraight, And The Rest (TM), kinds of stories that would really benefit English-speaking cinema (Pariah! Girlfight! Whale Rider! The Fall! Get On The Bus! Smoke Signals!), Scott brings an earnestness to main character and goon Doug Glatt, and it is largely this earnestness that makes this film redeemable.

Doug's lack of ulterior motive is often played for laughs; he's the not-so-bright nice guy who never has a witty comeback to an insult. His single "typical" masculine feature is the result of genetic lottery: Doug has an absurd tolerance for punching and getting punched. He's not full of rage, he's actually quite sweet; he just happens to fight well. This is the ticket price, the nod to the idiotic and condescending notion that all commercial films must be made for boys and men ages 14-60; this is how Doug wins the dick-measuring contest and the movie earns its dudely revenues. Physically, he's a rock.

Interestingly, Doug is not dumb. Even moments that are played for laughs at his expense reveal what is truly wonderful about Doug Glatt: he is atypically honest, and has zero ulterior motives. He doesn't play macho, or all-knowing, or studly, or any of the other costumes that men are asked to wear in this culture. It's part of the joke of his character that he lacks these things, and the way he approaches his hockey career shows that he has always felt like a failure as a man in the traditional sense: he just wants the chance to be good at something, and accepts that opportunity with dedication and without question.

One way of understanding Doug's failed-masculinity-as-strength comes from examining his family dynamics. Doug comes from a prominent New England Jewish family of doctors. Early on, we see the family coming out of Temple, and the parents express a kind of wistful dismay at both their sons: they introduce Doug's brother Ira to a nice young woman in the community, and then watch, half in denial, as Ira races to embrace his boyfriend in full view of the community. Between Ira's clear disinterest in women and Doug's unimpressive bouncer career, both parents are clearly uncomfortable with their sons; the scene ends when Eugene Levy as Doug's father, with a mixture of humor and shame, quips (or maybe just mentions deprecatingly) that both are adopted.

Ira "the gay brother" is not a central character, but his gayness functions in the plot as half-embraced and half exploited. Doug's major hockey breakthrough comes when a minor league player calls him a faggot; he responds, "My brother is gay!" They come to blows, and Doug's cement head/fist combo is captured on film and brought to the attention of a local minor league coach. Despite all the latent homophobia of the Aptow-style bromance (seen mainly in Baruch's sidekick, and in Doug's teammates), it is in taking a stand against a homophobic slur that Doug gets his big break. 

Homosexuality is similarly both embraced and mocked when the Halifax coach gives a speech that culminates in urging his team to be "Greek fuckin' underground gay porn hard!" It's somehow adorably subversive AND idiotically homophobic: it reads as training wheels for straight dudes who may be uncomfortable with atypical masculinity and/or intimacy between men (more on the latter in a bit).

Ira is never developed as a character, and really only has one moment of rejecting the tokenism inherent in the way he is treated by the film. Still, a pivotal scene for Doug comes when his parents and Ira visit him in Canada, after he has been transferred and begun to earn acclaim and popularity as a minor-league enforcer for the Halifax minor-league team. His parents urge him to give up on hockey and follow in their footsteps, and Doug has a pivotal moment of tender defiance. Doug, in his typical direct and somewhat inarticulate manner, repeats a mantra of, "I'm stupid, and he's gay," to his parents, exacting a discomfort necessary to get through to them. 

"I'm stupid, and he's gay," he exclaims repeatedly in a crowded restaurant. He uses this phrase as a chisel to chip away at the hardened layer of expectations placed on him: it is his way of owning that he will never be the man that his parents wanted him to be, that he is atypical, and that if he is not a "man" by their definition, he is still a person worthy of love and respect. Doug argues that if his parents are capable of the magical thinking that allows them to push him to go to medical school, than perhaps they are capable of equally magical thinking that would support him on his own terms. This scene could have flopped terribly, but, assuming one is willing to wade through the mask of gay jokes used to pad the theme of failed-masculinity-as-strength, it is actually quite touching. And contrary to his characterization as stupid, it is actually quite a smart speech. Crude, but smart.

Whether I see it on women, men, or people who identify as both/neither, I LOVE seeing alternative styles of masculinity. That is why, for me, sometimes a bromance is better than a romance. While I am absolutely overdosed on the fish-and-chips of the overgrown het male comedy (and the only thing stopping me from explaining why The 40 Year-Old Virgin is the nexus of everything that is wrong with our culture's approach to gender, sexuality, and romance, is that I would have to watch it again), there are some wonderful things that come out of the I Love You Mans and Superbads of this male-dominated genre: Parting the waters of all the tomfoolery and skullfuckery of the hockey team, and even within the excessively obscene performance of Jay Baruchel as the supportive best friend, we get to see Doug breaking down some of the basic isolation that keeps men from getting to be fully human

Doug's main challenge as the Halifax enforcer is to protect his roommate and fabulously named teammate Xavier LeFlamme, who is profoundly talented at hockey, but was dealt a concussive hit to the head by Doug's seasoned rival (played by Liev Schrieber) that knocked him off his game, possibly permanently. 

The sports story at its core is about a man who is strong (Doug) who has to find a way to develop a relationship with a man who is skilled but not strong in the same way (LeFlamme), and who is so shaken by the violence of the sport that he is on the verge of self-destructing. The hostility LeFlamme demonstrates for the better part of the movie is an obstacle that Doug slowly melts with his earnest, good-hearted honesty, and [spoiler alert] Doug's ultimate accomplishment in his short hockey career is to redeem his more talented teammate, so that LeFlamme can cease self-destructing and resume his craft of being a great hockey player. 

It's a story about men's intimacy, best typified by the wordless scene where Doug, following one of several pregame blowouts with LeFlamme, responds to a foul against LeFlamme by grabbing the offender's collar, punching him in the face, all the while making steady "I will protect you" eyes with LeFlamme, from the first hit to his skate to the penalty box. 
Just punches the guy like fourteen times.


"We are gonna have to work in some more dick jokes,
because I am really feeling the love, here, fellow straight guy!"

It's gross, it's overblown, it's bloody and violent and face punchey, but what Doug does is to restore LeFlamme's sense of safety. And it is goddamn touching.

And I fully admit the possibility that this is just fucked up and jaded of me, but the same violent trope told in the average romcom, where a strong dude comes along and restores a woman's sense of safety so she can succeed in life, is highly likely to simultaneously offend and bore me.1

Final thoughts:

*Allison Pill does a terrific job as the love interest, despite that the entire barrier to their burgeoning romance lies in her sense of sexual shame, and her self-loathing for not being awesome at monogamy. So kudos to Pill for instilling a sense of humanity in a character whose declaration of love is literally, "You make me wanna stop sleeping with a bunch of guys.

I'm not going to discuss the romantic aspect of the movie any further because it's not a strong aspect of the film and generally gives me a bad, bad case of The Disinterest. So, you know, thanks, Goon, for couching some alternative masculinity in your gladiator momfuckjoke movie, but fuck you for being another one of the millions of movies with no good parts for women.

*Liev Schreiber did a great job as the veteran Apollo Creed/Megaboss character, and gave great energy to the film in his short bursts of screen time throughout the film. A great example is the very casual, calm conversation he shares with Doug when they meet prior to the third act; the conversation remains respectful, blunt, but absent of macho posturing. This is contrasted with a later scene in which he steals Doug's best line from that conversation, word-for-word, in a pregame speech. Schreiber brought the precise combination of likability and dislikability that was missing from his role as Sabertooth in that really off-script Wolverine movie from 2009. (Also, long live MTV Laertes amiright, Shakespeare fans?)

*Also there is this subtext element of Doug's taboo-like resistance to sharing food or drink with people that breaks down after he conversates with Schreiber in a restaurant, and I think this demonstrates the respect he has for Schreiber's character, but might be about his germphobic doctor-upbringing and signifying a subtle relinquishing of some vestigial upper-class behaviors. Or something.

*Ultimately we need more diversity in filmmakers, in casting, in writing, and every other aspect of commercial cinema. And I'm pretty sure we've made enough bromances for the century. But part of dismantling kyriarchy is that men need to learn how to be closer to other men. And if what it takes for that to happen is that men need a cushion made of 1,001 dick jokes, I can deal with that, for now. It's still more interesting to me than watching any movie about a straight woman trying to get married.

1 I don't know this for sure, though, because men and women in romances are so rarely equals the way that Glatt and LeFlamme are as teammates. If anybody can think of romances involving restored senses of safety (NOT involving Manic Pixie Dream Girls or Twilight) that aren't really awful and Safe Haven-looking, please let me know some titles, and in half a year I will get back to you with a full report.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This is not a forum for the debating of the existence of sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, transphobia, ableism, or any of the other major forms of intersecting oppressions. OMG, THERE ARE SO MANY OTHER PLACES YOU CAN DO THAT!

Also, disagree with me and each other all you like! I love that! If you noticed I said something fucked up about oppression, or if your expertise in your own oppression gives you a better view, and if you are feeling generous enough to share that with me!? I embrace that!

Just be respectful. No name calling, No verbally attacking people. Please, my three readers and twenty-five spambots have feelings too, you know.