Film Review: “The Grizzlies”
At the edge of the world, a disenfranchised group of Inuit kids finds Hope at the end of a lacrosse stick. . . an Arctic tale sure to melt even the iciest heart.
Sometimes all it takes to make a difference in a forgotten and forsaken community is an outsider who’s just too young and idealistic to think that miracles don’t usually come true. That’s the basic premise of The Grizzlies, a 2018 hidden gem based on the true story of a young teacher whose first job is in a remote Canadian Inuit town perched on the edge of the Arctic Circle.
When Russ Sheppard (played by American up and comer, Ben Schnetzer) takes a job teaching History to the kids in Kugluktuk — not so much a town as a wilderness outpost — his sole mission is to check it off his resume and hightail it to a job at a prestigious private school back in ‘civilization’. What he encounters is a desperately poor place barely scraping by, plagued by unemployment, illiteracy, domestic violence, alcoholism, and a teen suicide rate exponentially above the North American average. If hopelessness had a mailing address, its zip code would be Kugluktuk.
In this environment of barely disguised despair, an idea takes hold in Russ, whose background as a college lacrosse player and coach has informed his sense of self-worth, team values and overall optimistic worldview. Maybe, just maybe, he can introduce lacrosse to his students as a substitute for the dead-end, dangerous activities in which they’re engaged on a nightly basis. With the help of a bright student named Miranda (in a lovely and personal performance by Emerald Macdonald) Russ launches a mission to transform this ragtag group of kids into a cohesive team and even aspires to have them compete on a national level.
What he doesn’t anticipate is the gravity of what lies at stake in the private worlds of these kids, which (as an outsider) he can’t begin to understand. What nobody can expect is the transformation that takes place in the town itself, which for the first time in generations, shares a collective pride and excitement for its young people and their futures.
The Grizzlies is the kind of movie that lifts one’s heart while breaking it at the same time. And for this reason, it veers beyond the ‘stranger in a strange land’ trope which has been mined to such inspiring levels in films such as NSP favorites Local Hero and Fisherman’s Friends. . . and another film which begs a close comparison, the French movie Voyage to Greenland. Because in those other films, the tone remains mostly comic, complete with a local ‘shaggy dog’ element and the protagonist emerging from the experience changed in some profound way. All that is true here, but perhaps because The Grizzlies is based on a true story (please stick around for the closing credits) it would have been a disservice to the town NOT to train a sobering lens on the societal issues which have plagued the Inuit world for generations.
The respected Canadian actor, writer, and producer, Miranda de Pencier, made her feature film directorial debut with The Grizzlies, fine-tuning the movie’s comedic palette as juxtaposed against the frequent tragedies which pile up like snowdrifts throughout these remote communities.
In researching the authentic Inuit and Indigenous casting and local production standards that went into this film, I was shocked and saddened to learn of the suspicious death last year of co-star Emerald Macdonald, who played Miranda, a character whose presence was really the beating heart of the story. To read more, check out this news article.
In the end, the message of The Grizzlies is as crystal clear as the frozen Arctic waters in which the Inuit fish each winter. Everyone needs their tribe around them. It’s the bond of Community that gives Meaning to our lives. Whether it’s a fishing pole, harpoon or a lacrosse stick, we are nothing without our Team.
The Grizzlies is presently streaming on Netflix.
Norma’s Streaming Picks is a Baby Boomer’s Guide to the Best Streaming Movies/TV on the Planet. Check out my site for a TON more titles and reviews!
If you enjoyed this, please don’t keep it to yourself!