THE GRIZZLIES – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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Underdog sports movies have been a Hollywood staple forever, whether it’s the Bad News Bears, The Mighty Ducks or Rudy. But The Grizzlies, about a real-life lacrosse team of Inuit high-schoolers in a small Arctic town in Canada, has much more at stake than just winning or losing. It’s about living rather than dying in a colonized community where a diamond mine is the main source of income and few opportunities exist for the marginalized indigenous people who reside there. Drugs and alcoholism are rampant as are domestic abuse and teen suicides.

Director Miranda de Pencier has to perform on a tightrope act of sorts as a white savior in the form of Russ (Ben Schnetzer), a preppy young male history teacher from “the South,” arrives to fulfill a one-year stint in Kugluktuk. Taking some cues from the likes of To Sir with Love or Stand and Deliver, he finds most of his students fail to commit to studying or even showing up given their lack of opportunity and hope for betterment. Russ just can’t earn the trust of most of his charges until a light bulb goes off in the lacrosse enthusiast’s head that a sport that is native to their culture might give them a reason to get their acts together and to bring the students together as a makeshift family. Soon enough being a team gives them pride, identity and the feeling they are not alone in the world.

Schnetzer and Will Sasso as his burly white sidekick are appealing enough in their roles. But it is the Inuit young actors who have a bigger investment in telling this story. Given that this a culture not given to running their mouths – they raise their eyebrows to say yes – the young cast’s performances are built upon a sense of authenticity, understatement, body language and facial expressions. They keep things real and are the main reason I was left clutching wads of tissue at the film’s conclusion. That’s because they are allowed to save themselves.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Grizzlies is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for August 14, 2020

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Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.