Men with Brooms… yup. It just might be the most Canadian movie of all time. It sure tried hard to be anyway and it succeeded on so many levels with the right balance of pathos and humour, excellent casting and a beaver stampede the likes of which have never been seen before and mayhaps never will again.
Indeed, there’s much to note of this 2002 comedy. To wit:
– It was co-written, directed and starring Edmonton’s own Paul Gross, he of Due South fame and noted graduate of the U of A’s drama school.
– The screenplay was also co-written by other Canadian scribes: Paul Quarrington, the famed and fabled polymath writer of all trades, and John Krizanc, the experimental playwright.
– Other stars include the versatile and fearless Molly Parker and the late acting legend Leslie Nielsen. And don’t call him Shirley.
– Three-time Brier champ Jeff Stoughton has a cameo doing his bewildering 360 ‘spin-o-rama’ curling shot. We also get brief appearances by former world and Canadian champion Paul Savage, Yorkton’s Gerald Shymko, 1998 Olympic silver medalist George Karrys and icemaker Shorty Jenkins. He was that colourful guy in the pink cowboy hat who sprayed the pebbling water who became famous for a spell after this movie came out.
– It was filmed in areas around the mines of Sudbury and the curling clubs of Brampton, Ontario.
– The excellent soundtrack includes such notable Canadian singers and musicians like Sarah Harmer, Tom Wilson, Our Lady Peace, Big Sugar, Holly McNarland, the Matthew Good Band, the Barra MacNeils, Kathleen Edwards, Chantal Kreviazuk, Raine Maida and the Tragically Hip.
– Incidentally, The Hip also have their own second of fame in the picture as the Kingston Rink during the championship known as the Golden Broom.
– It mythologizes curling like no other film, going so far as to have the main character wax on about the beauty of a stone and the poetry of a good throw. “It’s forty-two pounds of polished granite, bevelled on the belly and a handle a human being can hold. And it may have no practical purpose in itself but it is a repository of human possibility and if it’s handled just right, it will exact the kind of poetry… For ten years, I’ve drilled for oil in 93 countries, five different continents, and not once have I done anything to equal the grace of a well-thrown rock sliding down a sheet. Not once,” Paul Gross as Chris Cutter remarks. Okay, curling isn’t our national sport but it does hold a lot of culture, history, and much favour, especially in small communities where hockey skates are scarce but there’s no shortage of ice or big rocks with handles to throw around.
– A bagpiper pops up as a harbinger of hope playing loud and proud in several scenes.
– And yes, there is a stampede of beavers. Seriously.
The movie starts with the retrieval of a curling stone, previously thrown in a huff into a lake. As scuba diver Amy Foley (Molly Parker) finally manages to reel the rock into the boat, her father Donald (James B. Douglas) has a heart attack and dies.
His eulogy is indeed a memorable memorial. He insists on having his cremated remains put under the handle of the stone and prompts the Cutter rink – consisting of rig pig Chris Cutter (Paul Gross), mortician Neil Bucyk (James Allodi), the sterile wannabe father Eddie Strombeck (Jed Rees) and drug dealer James Lennox (Peter Outerbridge) – to reunite and to enter the famed and fabled Golden Broom competition to attain their long-awaited glory. He used to coach that team and knew what they were capable of. It was his dying wish to be placed right on the button.
The backstory is that the team was in the same competition some years back but Cutter didn’t call a burned rock (i.e. a rock that was interfered with while in play), thereby dishonouring himself and his teammates. They ended up losing in disgrace, and he left town, leaving his fiancÄ‚Â©e Julie Foley (Michelle Nolden) at the same time.
Julie, by the way, is Amy’s sister and a prospective astronaut for an upcoming space mission. Amy is an alcoholic single mom who works at a physical rehabilitation facility, and is sadly forlorn for being in love with Cutter himself.
In order for the Cutter rink to get back in competitive shape, they need the help of a good trainer and coach to replace the recently deceased Donald. That’s where Leslie Nielsen enters, as Gordon Cutter, Chris’ estranged father. The two have not been on speaking terms for several years as well, adding another level of conflict that our protagonists must overcome in order to clear the air and put their house back in order.
Incidentally, Gordon suffers from paralyzing back pains, a tragic physiological circumstance that he treats by self-medicating with the magic mushrooms that he grows in his barn.
Naturally, they have their share of ups and downs. Training is tough, even if it is simply a sport where people throw rocks sliding down a sheet of ice as their teammates sweep the debris out of the way. It’s almost like a big game of shuffleboard.
Disregard that, ye die-hard curling fans. I did not just say that. I meant that it’s like snooker, poker, and free-rock climbing, with a touch of chess. It’s dangerous shit, in the parlance of Lennox as quoted in one scene.
Dangerous and nerve-wracking too, due to the presence of Alexander ‘The Juggernaut’ Yount (Greg Bryk), the unstoppable American skip in the competition. The action is fierce and hilarious at times causing sports commentator Paul Savage (as himself) to progress from tame beverages up to progressively harder and stiffer drinks. And yes, Cutter must face up to his former floundering and moral failure in the game of honour, and he must redeem himself in front of those he disappointed including his father.
The ending is indeed a poetic if farcical climax, but such things can be overlooked in the interests of a heartwarming storyline. I will say that the ashes under the handle do play a pivotal role in another unforgettable scene in this yarn. It’s a bit smarmy and cheesy but nonetheless fun all round. It doesn’t get too serious and it’s not totally frivolous either. Men with Brooms makes for a very fine and easy introduction to Cinema Canadiana.