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Men with Brooms (2002)

by on 2012/07/03

“I’m a little stoned.”

* * * *

One of the last occasions my family was gathered for a movie viewing was a visit from my parents, and watching Men with Brooms on video. I seem to remember we all enjoyed its largely unthreatening tone, so I never understood the critical vitriol it’s received. Nobody expects a Canadian film to win blockbuster success, but there’s more than the rose-coloured tint of my memory to recommend this modest confection.

A fun ensemble cast seasoned with familiar faces is distinguished by a handful of relatively big names, including leading lady Molly Parker (Twitch City), an over-caffeinated Bob Bainborough (Duct Tape Forever), a rare dramatic turn from the legendary Leslie Nielsen (Naked Gun), and multi-threat Paul Gross (Gunless), handling story, screenplay, acting, music, and directing roles.

Set in Long Bay, Ontario, the main narrative thread concerns a group of promising-but-grown-apart curlers, reunited by their late mentor’s will. Another thread involves the love triangle between the team leader and two sisters, the mentor’s daughters. The final thread plays into the others, the relationship between the leader and his own estranged father. Various other characters enjoy colourful thumbnail subplots.

It’s a testament to the writing the complexity doesn’t bog down what appears to be a simple, straightforward tale. Unfortunately, its delivery can be a mixed bag. At times it’s well done . . . succinct, subtle, even elliptical. Appropriately, curling metaphors and puns are everywhere.

Alternately, some sequences are more heavy-handed in conveying concepts, dates, and facts. The original coach recounts a shared past, with which they all are already acquainted. The fellows, aloud, mull over the reasons they fell out a decade ago. The new coach details the evolution of curling in a pedantic sauna scene.

The communication of rules and context works best when the sisters explain them to a visiting girlfriend unfamiliar with the sport. Later on, the commentators serve a similar function, though the graphical overlays push their explanations a little far. For example, it’s not really critical we understand poker’s finer points to appreciate the card games in Casino Royale (2006). While it’s a bonus if the mechanics work internally, we should be able to get the gist from the actors involved.

Similarly overdone were the intermittent lowbrow appeals. If bodily functions of all varieties turn your comedy crank, Men with Brooms has got you very well covered: drunkenness, nudity, sex, toilet humour, and vomiting. Add to that the slapstick and lots of swearing . . . it pushed the limits of coarseness for my liking.

As with the writing, at different times, I was taken by surprise by exceptions. The humour would become lower-key, darker and slyly provocative: an early scene with a mishandled corpse, the comic relief at an AA meeting, an O-ring crash joke to an astronaut, and a level of blasphemy not personally insulting so much as atypically excessive, in my experience.

I found the movie most effective when it focused on less cliched assets. Happily it does so a lot, and sufficiently to outweigh what put me off. To wit, its Canadianisms: our anthem, the beavers, duct tape, the soundtrack, a Hip cameo, and a slew of national brand names placed or displayed.

Or the way the characters — and filmmakers — romanticize the trappings of curling. Now, I know almost nothing about curling and, when offered the chance to play in a high school club, turned it down for Dungeons and Dragons instead. There is something compelling, however, in likening the sport to poetry. Its fetishization extends to urns, tea pots, and a conference table.

Sure, the framework is conventional. Any “dysfunctional team beats the odds” story won’t be threatened by the innovation here. Nevertheless, despite uneven execution, there’s enough of a unique focus and distinctive decoration to make seeing Men with Brooms worthwhile. Go in with the right expectations and you’ll more than manage to have some fun.

Probably three stars overall, if I take a wider view, but four stars for Canadians and anyone else who loves them.

* * * *

Rated 14A

103 minutes

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