Toronto 2010: What if you went to a film premiere and a hockey musical broke out?
Opening nights at the Toronto International Film Festival tend to the self-serious -- cinematic images of Canadian war heroism and Inuit ethnic pride come rushing back, all efforts to cleanse them from our memory rendered futile. But Thursday night, for the start of its 35th edition, the festival took a break from its usual earnestness to let down its hair -- or was it a hockey mullet?
To give you a sense of the campiness at the opening-night ceremony/premiere screening of "Score: a Hockey Musical": After the end credits rolled, a guitarist, an array of drummers and a slew of backup singers came out to play a live rendition of a song whose main lyric is "Hockey's the greatest game in the land."
"What can I say about tonight's film? Poutine. Maple syrup," festival co-director Cameron Bailey began ticking off before the screening. "Small tokens of our common myth," he added, just before getting an unruly rise from the normally staid Roy Thomson crowd by invoking Canada's hockey gold at the 2010 Olympics.
We're not sure he needed to. The movie itself had the audience more excited than they would have been had God's child himself (that would be Sidney Crosby) come down from heaven and graced the TIFF venue. Michael McGowan's musical is an utterly silly but absurdly fun adolescent confection -- coming in, we were thinking of "Glee" and "Slapshot," though occasionally evident too were Christopher Guest and "Dodgeball." The filmmaker is known more for inspirational drama ("One Week," "Saint Ralph"), but he's able to put his tongue sufficiently in cheek with a series of one liners and characters that gently poke at Canadian stereotypes.
McGowan's film tells the story of 17-year-old Farley Gordon (Noah Reid), a precocious cherub of a teenager who happens to have an uncanny knack for stick handling and shooting wristers. Coddled by his pacifist parents (a duo that includes Olivia Newton John), Farley has never played an organized form of hockey in his life, and the movie proceeds to track, in campy chorus-and-verse, what happens when he tries, following particularly his misgivings about fighting. Farley's a pacifist too, you see, and the idea that he has to drop the gloves once in a while gets him more upset than a Leafs fan at a Patrick Roy retirement ceremony. (The fighting also allows McGowan to include hockey goons belting out comically self-deprecating ditties, along with "West Side Story"-style hand-to-hand combat scenes set to the cheesy pop score.
"My family knows I'm tone-deaf, so the fact that I wrote a musical is a bit of a joke," McGowan said before the screening. (Canadian musician Hawksley Workman was responsible for many of the musical numbers.)
Nor was the film the only celebration of all things Canada at the opening-night festivities. Also before the screening, the original founders of the Toronto International Film Festival (then called the Festival of Festivals) came onstage and offered their own surprisingly cheeky performance. And a member of Parliament, James Moore (he's the minister of Canadian heritage and official languages, but you knew that) drew what is probably the world's first-ever comparison between the NHL salary cap and the hypothesis that Canada is the most cultured country on Earth. (We'd explain it but we'd probably develop an accent just trying).
As for the film itself, an American audience -- and let's face it, it's unlikely there will be much of one -- will probably not be nearly as tickled by cameos from Walter Gretzky and George Stroumboulopoulos. For one night in downtown Toronto, however, their presence was enough to get the audience gripping at their hockey sweaters and singing to the rafters.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: 'Score: A Hockey Musical.' Credit: Mongrel Media
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