This is the second comedy I’ve seen recently — the other was The FP — to recognize that the cursing in youth-oriented movies has gone so far off the charts that it’s ripe for satire. Like The FP, Goon satirizes the vulgarity by amping it up. I can only imagine that for Goon screenwriters Jay Baruchel (who appears in the film as the hero's best friend) and Evan Goldberg, the challenge was to figure out just how many f-words they could pack into a single line of dialogue. They do a lot of packing.
The movie is based on a memoir by Doug Smith, who played minor-league hockey and co-wrote a book about his experiences 10 years ago. It was a small-press book and didn’t do much at the time, but the story — about a "goon," a hockey player whose main function is to beat up on the other team — has been adapted and the character transformed. In his new incarnation, Doug Smith has become Doug Glatt, a good-natured idiot with two gifts: He can take a punch, and he can knock out just about anybody.
He’s also Jewish, in this version, from an upper-middle-class family, which means that his mother and physician father (Eugene Levy) look at him like he’s from Jupiter and find his career path mortifying, even if he is the most successful goon in the minor leagues. His father does not think this is the career path of a serious man, and he’s concerned about the head injuries his son might be inflicting.
Though the comedy in Goon is extreme, it’s also quite specific and true to its world. For example, the central character of Doug is drawn with considerable care and acted with specificity by Seann William Scott. Doug is a sweet, humble guy, who is diffident in every other aspect of his life, for the simple reason that he never knows what to say. When he meets a girl he likes, Eva, he tells her that her name is pretty "like your face." Everything he says is a little bit off, and Scott plays every moment like he wonders if he’s doing or saying something wrong. It makes for a funny and a surprisingly endearing character.
Alison Pill — who played Zelda Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris — gets her first extended comic showcase as the object of Doug’s affection, a self-described "slut" who "sleeps around." She strikes just the right note, extreme yet true. A big emotional moment comes when she tells him that he makes her want to stop having sex with lots of different guys. He’s touched by this: "That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me."
Along the way, almost by accident, you get a picture of Canadian hockey in the lower levels, and it’s tough. It’s blood sport, literally — lots of blood on the ice and some teeth, too. Liev Schreiber plays the sport’s reigning goon, with a believable mix of pride and self-disgust. If this were Showgirls, Schreiber would be Gina Gershon and Scott would be Elizabeth Berkley.
Or to put it another way, the form is familiar and holds no surprises, but the particulars are different and lots of fun. And Goon doesn’t overstay its welcome. It quits while it’s ahead.