JUNIOR (Isabelle Lavigne, Stéphane Thibault, Canada). 97 minutes. Subtitled. Sunday (April 20), 7 pm, Cumberland; Tuesday (April 22), 4:30 pm, Innis. Rating: NNNN
Junior is a film about aspiring NHL hockey players in which you don’t actually get to watch much hockey. You see glimpses of games through arena hallways, see players enter the rink and leave it. But it's clearly the doc’s intention to show that the real goals, fights and penalties in the business happen off the ice and in dressing rooms, offices, buses and anonymous hotel rooms.
Using a vérité, fly-on-the-wall approach, directors Isabel Lavigne and Stéphane Thibault observe the players, agents and coaches involved in one team from Baie-Comeau in Quebec’s Junior hockey league.
Life for the teenage players isn’t a lot of fun. Drinking or partying are verboten (the league sends spies to the bars), you’re stuck with curfews and studies to attend to when you’re not playing hockey. And there’s that damned acne that won’t go away.
The head coach (James Gandolfini look-a-like Eric Dubois) is a hard-nosed type. Agents treat you like racehorses that might come in. And in this competitive, male-centred world, there’s barely a single female. Furthermore, simple cameraderie and friendship among the guys doesn’t seem to exist.
But the rewards include possibly being drafted by NHL, which provides the film with its inevitable climax.
The doc takes a while to get going, but the effects are cumulative and lasting. Lavigne and Thibault reward your patience with a quiet but devastating look at how much a game that the players are repeatedly told should be “fun” is anything but.