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TIFF 2018 Review: The Grizzlies

Lacrosse saves lives in this conventional Canadian bore

Kugluktuk, Nunavut is a town mired in despair. Alcoholism, domestic abuse, and a suicide epidemic plague the Inuit population there. But when upbeat white teacher Russ (Ben Schnetzer) shows up, he’s able to change it all, by starting a lacrosse team for a handful of high schoolers. Yes, this is another white saviour movie.

The Grizzlies takes the typical “teacher inspires rowdy youths to better themselves” genre, but adds certain twists. Here, there is the conflict of residential schools, which are brought up to make Russ’ presence as a white outsider more complicated. There are mentions of northern food deserts, which necessitates participation in hunting, even when it means skipping school. But while the reasons for this hostility (or just a lack of cooperation) are raised, they are never developed. Russ’ lacrosse team excels, and we find the rest of the community depicted as crabs in a bucket — not actually caring about their town or people, they really just seem resentful of anyone who succeeds, destroying the previous points made and replacing them with an attitude of “if you would just try hard and motivate yourself, you could do anything.”

Ultimately, we find the film depicting a group of Inuit youths who submit to the ideals of a white man who treats them with an optimistic ignorance and condescension. While the film ends on a more positive note, celebrating the team as people outside of Russ’ influence, it is a briefly stark difference from the rest of the disappointing narrative. If only The Grizzlies could have had more of this, more moments for the Inuit characters to take up space on their own terms, then it might have been better.

1.5
Chelsea Phillips-Carr

Chelsea Phillips-Carr is a freelance writer from Toronto. She has an MA in cinema studies.