Score: A Hockey Musical shoots for populist resonance

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      TORONTO—Writer-director and “huge” hockey fan Michael McGowan (Saint Ralph) seems determined to make movies that are as Canadian as sitting at the bar with poutine and a Molson while watching Don Cherry rant about “our boys in Afghanistan”.

      Watch the trailer for Score: A Hockey Musical.

      In his indie hit One Week, Vancouver’s Joshua Jackson played a young man with a medical death sentence who hit the road and discovered the meaning of life on a Canadian road trip littered with national icons. McGowan’s new movie ups the Canadiana ante and takes on our national religion. Score: A Hockey Musical (opening on Friday [October 22]) tells the story of a home-schooled kid with Wayne Gretzky–like talent who gets drawn into organized hockey and discovers that a Canadian boy scoring like a Sedin doesn’t matter if he fights like one too.

      On a patio lounge the day after his film opened the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, McGowan is still flying from “one of those magical nights that you hope for but don’t expect.”¦The opening could not have rocked the house more.”

      He is optimistic that his new movie is “unabashedly populist”. “It’s got the trifecta of it’s a sports movie, it’s a comedy, it’s a musical”¦and getting Olivia [Newton-John] gave it worldwide attention,” he says. The Grease and singing star has a supporting role as the world’s most reluctant hockey mom, and Score played her signing as a big-league media event.

      The movie started generating buzz almost a year ago by leaking the names of newsworthy cast members, including Newton-John and CBC’s George Stroumboulopoulos as an enthusiastic announcer.

      The movie also features cameos by CanCon musical stars Nelly Furtado, Hawksley Workman, and Dave Bidini, hockey icons like Walter Gretzky and Theo Fleury—Fleury sang and hit his mark like a veteran actor, McGowan says—and several other iconic Canadians who didn’t make the final cut but will turn up in overtime sequences on the DVD. “There’s a long scene that will be in the DVD,” McGowan says. “It’s a badly written scene, but we had Margaret Atwood, Dan Hill, and Eddie Shack.” McGowan says that with so many cool cameos, it was painful to lose the scene, but it just didn’t work.

      About the only icon McGowan didn’t snag was Cherry, and the director says the colourful commentator didn’t end up on the team due to “scheduling difficulties”.

      There are even a few actors in the movie, although the stars are both rookies. Noah Reid stars as Farley Gordon, and Allie MacDonald plays Farley’s best friend and love interest.

      A good Canadian kid, McGowan started playing organized hockey at age six, and when he set out to make a hockey movie—especially one that explores the role of violence in the sport—he made sure he gave a nod to the classic hockey film in a moment when a character paraphrases a famous line: “I feel shame.” (And if you’re a Canadian who doesn’t know where that line is from, you should feel shame.)

      Score was born during the making of One Week when McGowan couldn’t get the licence for a song he wanted to use and ended up writing his own tune with the lyrics: “I’ve seen a beaver/I’ve seen a goose riding the railroad with a two-four of Moose.” McGowan says he really enjoyed the songwriting—he’d also had fun writing a song for Saint Ralph, and that led to the idea of a musical. And Canadiana? That’s just where he lives.

      “With One Week, I really enjoyed playing with patriotism and giving audiences a chance to feel good about their country—and given our box-office success, it seemed justified. And a lot of feedback was, ”˜It just made me proud to be Canadian.’ And I definitely don’t want to beat people over the head with a beaver pelt or just, you know, wrap them around the flag without a story, but why not explore that? My own interpretation of what it means to be Canadian is interesting to me as a filmmaker.”

      It’s also what excites McGowan as a writer, and for him, “the most real part [of making a movie] is the writing. The most fun is directing—you’re the closest to being a rock star that you’re ever going to get: ”˜Can I get you a coffee? Can I do this?’ and you’ve got 200 people doing what you tell them to—but the most real part is the writing.”