Score: A Hockey Musical

Director: Michael McGowan
Noah Reid, Olivia Newton-John, Allie MacDonald

Over the years, I have certainly found out a lot about how Hollywood works, and how it has evolved over the years. For example, I have learned that with costs soaring for film production, studio heads nowadays are very reluctant to invest in the making of movies that seem riskier than average. Compare that with decades earlier, when filmmaking was a lot cheaper and therefore studio heads could take a lot more risks. I will admit that if I were a studio head, and realizing that it was my money that I was spending and my job on the line, I would probably be reluctant to take risks. For example, there is the genre of animation - specifically being animation that has been aimed at a more mature audience. While audiences are comfortable going to see animated movies aimed at a family audience, box office flops like Final Fantasy and Titan A.E. show adults generally think that animation is kids' stuff. The documentary genre is another pitfall. With rare exceptions like Michael Moore efforts, audiences show little enthusiasm about seeing such movies, at least on the big screen. Foreign films, and films about another country's history, are also a tough sell to the American public. All the same, I have realized there are some genres that nowadays are not being tapped to their full potential. For example, the western. The common "wisdom" going around Hollywood is that westerns don't sell anymore. However, if you look at the westerns made for the past thirty years or so, you will see that almost all the westerns that have been good and received decent distribution have done decent to excellent business at the box office.

But getting back to discussing film genres that I may love watching but realize they are a tough sell to the genre public, I would like to discuss in more depth one particular film genre that's become all but extinct on the silver screen. And that is the musical. Musicals have become so rare in recent decades that I haven't had a lot of opportunity to review any for this web site. Nowadays, it seems practically the only musicals that get made are those that happen to be animated movies for the family. Clearly, the classical kind of musical that got made in the Golden Age of Hollywood has lost favor with the mainstream public, one reason being that the style of music that is on the Billboard Top 40 chart is much different than the music found in classic musicals like Singin' In The Rain. But I think the near extinction of the musical is also due to the fact that I mentioned in the first paragraph, with movies becoming more expensive than ever. Even in the Golden Age, musicals cost quite a bit of money to produce. Another factor is that the studio system that existed back then does not exist now, and makes it much harder to make a musical. In the Golden Age, you have contracted song composers, choreographers, and other key people easily at your disposal to help design the musical numbers. Also, you had on hand contracted actors and actresses you could easily choose from and force to star in your musical. And you could force them to go through singing and dancing lessons for months in order to prepare them. Today, the studio system no longer exists, so you don't have all those people at your disposal. And trying to hire an actor to go through all that training to pull off musical numbers would be difficult, because time is a lot more valuable today than it was all those decades ago.

So you can see why musicals are rare in this day and age. And there are certain kinds of musicals that are even rarer. One of them happens to be Canadian musical films. It's pretty easy to figure out why there have been so few Canadian musicals made - high costs, and the Canadian Score: A Hockey Musicalpublic generally not liking Canadian films. But a few have been made, Score: A Hockey Musical being one of them. The story behind the movie is kind of interesting - it was a rare attempt to make a mainstream Canadian movie, and was one of the few Canadian movies to get a theatrical release as wide as a Hollywood movie in Canada. But Canadians indicated by the incredibly pathetic box office take that they weren't buying it, and the movie was gone from most theaters after just two weeks. When the movie got released on DVD, the distributor not only pulled the "A Hockey Musical" part of the title off the front cover, they failed to mention anywhere on the DVD case the fact that the movie was a musical, save for saying that among the disc's special features, there was an optional "sing-a-long" track. So I knew I had to see if the movie was as big an embarrassment as the distributor seemed to think it was. The central figure of the movie is a seventeen year-old by the name of Farley (Reid). Although he lives in the major metropolis of Toronto, he lives a very sheltered life with his hippie-like parents Edgar (Marc Jordan) and Hope (Newton-John, Grease), who home school him. About the only contacts he has with the outside world are Eve (MacDonald, Stories We Tell), who has been his next door best friend since childhood, and his passion for playing hockey with other amateur players in the neighborhood. As it turns out, Farley is so sheltered he does not seem to realize that not only Eve wants to be more than just a friend, but that he's a natural at hockey. But the latter changes one day when junior league hockey team owner Walter (Stephen McHattie, Beverly Hills Cop III) spots Farley playing. Walter quickly signs Farley up, and it soon seems that Farley is on his way to fame and fortune. But Farley soon learns that, among other undesirable things, league hockey demands the players get rough at times and that fame can bring some hardships as well - one of them being that it may result in Farley losing Eve to another guy.

When the opportunity to watch a movie musical comes my way, more often than not I first do research on the movie before deciding whether or not to watch it. And when I do research, there is one specific thing I am most interested to know about the musical. It's probably the same thing you are most interesting in knowing when a movie musical falls into your lap. And that is the movie's musical numbers. Are the songs good? And what about the choreography, if any? I'll start with answering the latter question. If you are looking for amazing and elaborate dancing, you'd better look elsewhere. Almost all of the musical numbers are done with the performers standing in one place as they belt out the songs. The few times (three or four instances in total) when there is some significant movement, while the choreography isn't terrible, it comes across as quite small scale, both with the unelaborate dancing to the short time each dance is in length. It feels like it was conceived and practiced for only an hour before the camera started rolling. Though while the movie's choreography is disappointing on more than one level, it's a masterpiece compared to the movie's songs. The best way to critique them is just to list a sample of the lyrics. The opening song Darryl vs. The Kid has one character spout out: "Are we supposed to believe that baloney / You'd be lucky to drive a Zamboni". A short time later, when Farley and Eve are singing the song Best Friends, he sings: "When I was five I threw up on her colony of ants," to which she responds with: "Farley once made me laugh so hard that I peed my pants". Further into the movie, a doubting hockey coach (John Pyper Ferguson, Drive) tells the naive Farley via song after his first practice game: "Hallmark I'm sure would be so proud / To hear you voice those sentiments out loud / But a well placed fart would knock you down / If The Moose meant harm you'd be in a hospital gown".

The worst and most embarrassing song in the movie is a number called - get this - Kraft Dinner (ooh, how Canadian!), where the singer somehow hides his humiliation when he sings, "Hockey without fighting / Is like Kraft Dinner without cheese / It's still pasta / But the palate it won't please". As you can see from these samples, the lyrics to the songs in Score: A Hockey Musical are downright terrible, being among other things awkward and sounding stupid. But there are additional problems with these songs. One big problem is all the songs sound the same, with the same basic kind of music used throughout. Another problem is that none of the cast members seems to have the ability to sing. Except maybe Olivia Newton-John, though to be honest I thought she sounded a little hoarse and aged the few times she got to sing. My theory is that she was probably arguing long and hard behind the scenes with the filmmakers about her weakly written role. She and her co-star Jordan play the hippie-like parents, but they come across as caricatures. There's no explaining why they feel their son should be raised in a sheltered environment, and certainly no explanation why they abruptly change their way of thinking later in the movie. The other characters in the movie are also pathetically written. The love interest Eve has had a crush on Farley for ages, but not once does the movie explain why she has a romantic interest with the doofus for so long. "Doofus" is really the best way to describe the character of Farley. He has been written to be so innocent, so uncorrupted by society even as he approaches adulthood that you just want to whip out your hand and give him a smack in the face to wake him up to the hard facts of life.

I think another reason that feeling or rage filled me was with Noah Reid's performance in the role. He shows talent, but in this role he plays dumb too well, forgetting to show a side that is sympathetic and/or relatable. Though I think the blame for this has to fall on writer/director Michael McGowan (Still Mine) for not steering him straight. Actually, just about all of the blame for the movie rests on McGowan's shoulders. The bad writing for the movie doesn't just extend to the songs and the characters. The story for this movie proceeds in a very slow and drawn out fashion. That's because the story, with its limited story elements, seems straight out of a sitcom fashioned for a thirty minute time slot. But even had Score been cut down, the script would have still suffered from stuff like tired and unfunny humor (like when a little kid tells an adult to screw himself) and a very familiar basic story. As for McGowan's directing, it's a notch or two above his writing. Despite working with a typically limited Canadian film budget, he does make the movie look okay in some aspects, from providing convincing hockey uniforms to the players to enough background extras during any of the many games. Curiously, though, McGowan photographs the entire movie in dark and dreary colors. I don't know about you, but if I were trying to make an upbeat musical, I would be working hard to have the colors pop out of the screen to add to the feeling of life and joy I would be trying my musical to have. As it is, the cold look of the movie is frankly depressing, and it would be hard to have any fun with the movie even if the other parts had been better. But try telling that to the people who made this movie. After the movie bombed in theaters, I remember reading a newspaper article where one of these key people (I forget exactly who) behind the movie admitting that he was "devastated" by the box office flop. He went on to state his theory for the movie's poor performance, which was that maybe hockey fans did not want to see a musical and musical fans did not want to see hockey. That may have some truth, but if you ask me, I think a more precise explanation was that Canadians did not want to see a dumb idea executed in a bad manner.

(Posted May 4, 2020)

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See also: Cinderella, Foolproof, Hot Summer