A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Inner strength can be stronger than past or present difficulties. Change creates consequences. It's important to keep your promises, especially when you've made them to vulnerable people. Sports are depicted as a positive outlet for teens, offering opportunities for leadership, teamwork, providing hope and increased self-esteem.
Positive Role Models
Russ fights for his students' well-being; he makes mistakes in how he talks to and interacts with them but learns from his errors (eventually), apologizes, strives to do better and respect them and their culture. Russ, who's a would-be White savior character, learns that he has a lot to learn about a culture and community he thinks needs "fixing." Other characters point out his shortcomings and lack of understanding ("this is not about you!") and help him learn to see other points of view. Teens face serious challenges but eventually thrive through collaboration, teamwork. One teen boy empathizes with his abusive father because he knows his dad was also a victim of abuse when he was forced to attend a residential school.
A lacrosse team of Canadian Inuit teens is coached by a White outsider (Russ) who thinks he can improve and "fix" them and their community, which falls into White savior territory. The onus frustratingly falls on Inuit teens and elders to patiently teach this arrogant teacher. But film eventually shows how Russ needs to respect and understand a culture he isn't familiar with in order to succeed. Offers an introduction to some Inuit customs and empathetically portrays generational trauma left by colonialism, specifically by Canadian government's racist residential schools program, which ended in 1947. Non-stereotypical examples include a female student who joins the otherwise all-male lacrosse team; a teen boy who cares tenderly for his little brother; and another teen -- called "fat" by her thinner sister -- proving to be an integral member of the team. Behind the camera, more than 91% of the cast and more than 33% of the crew identified as Inuit or Indigenous.
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Violence & Scariness
Teen suicide. Several scenes of domestic violence: punches, bruises, blood. Fistfight. A teen punches an adult authority figure. Guns are seen in connection with hunting, and a bloody animal carcass is eaten. Arguments, yelling.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Two dating teens are affectionate.
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Strong language includes "ass," "crap," "retarded," "s--t," "hell," "a--hole," "crap," and several uses of "f--k." "Jesus" is used as an exclamation. Also insult language such as "fat," "lazy," "whiny babies," and various uses of "d--k."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Teens frequently drink hard liquor out of bottles; there are sometimes severe consequences but not always. Teens and kids smoke cigarettes, pot. Adults are seen passed out on several occasions, empty liquor bottles nearby. An adult is seen drinking while driving and offers a justification.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Grizzlies is a powerful drama based on a true story. It follows Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer), a newly graduated White teacher from the city who takes what he thinks will be a resume-building assignment in Kugluktuk, a remote Canadian Indigenous community. His students are grappling with serious challenges, including poverty, hunger, domestic violence (with punches, bruises, and blood), substance abuse, and being unhoused. The Nunavut territory is also facing an epidemic of teen suicide. The movie lays out that all of this is part of ongoing intergenerational trauma due to the pain and struggle of colonialism. Many characters, including teens, frequently drink hard liquor and smoke both cigarettes and pot; the substance use isn't glamorized. Strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," and more, and guns are used for hunting. Sheppard's character falls into "White savior" territory -- he thinks he can "fix" his Inuit students and their community -- but his lack of understanding of their culture leads to dire consequences. Ultimately, the story sends the message that there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution and makes clear the damage people can do when they try to impress their way of life onto an unfamiliar culture. It also celebrates teamwork and sports as a means to increased hope and self-esteem. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Calling The Grizzlies a "Canadian high school sports movie" would significantly undersell its value. This little indie about lacrosse is right up there with Hoosiers, Miracle, and Friday Night Lights on the list of most powerful sports movies. It doesn't just defy sports movie clichés: It embraces and then exceeds the genre by delivering a meaningful and important story about an Indigenous community that has the highest suicide rate in North America. Not only are Kugluktuk's teens facing challenges like poverty, hunger, and abuse, but they're trying to exist in a world where colonizers have marginalized their people and disrupted centuries of customs and culture.
It may raise some eyebrows, then, that the movie's "hero," Russ Sheppard, is a White man who introduces the Indigenous sport of lacrosse to a group of Indigenous teens. But what initially looks like another White savior story soon takes on more fish-out-of-water elements. Yes, the story centers on Sheppard's narrative -- starting when he arrives in Kugluktuk fired up and ready to attack his first teaching assignment before getting the heck out of the Arctic and into a sweet prep school gig. But the movie also shows us behind-the-scenes glimpses of his students' complicated lives, where Sheppard is nowhere to be seen. That helps viewers understand why, when he sees that his students aren't motivated to come to school, to participate, or to complete assignments, it's a mistake for him to apply the solutions that might work for White urbanites -- i.e., tough talk and calling out "troublemakers." He fails tragically. And that's where director Miranda de Pencier tries to turn what seems like a Dangerous Minds-type film into a slap upside the head for assuming that you can come into a new culture and identify what needs "fixing." De Pencier shows that trying to impose your way onto others, even those who seem to be struggling, can be far more damaging than effective, but the film never quite escapes its trappings of centering a White male lead who shakes up the town of Kugluktuk for the better. Otherwise, The Grizzlies hits all the marks to leave you cheering, crying, and, hopefully, thinking.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.