On its snow-covered surface, “The Grizzlies,” a true story about a young teacher who arrives in the remote Canadian Arctic town of Kugluktuk, Nunavut, and attempts to create a competitive lacrosse team out of his unmotivated students, could easily sound like a colder climate variation on “The Bad News Bears.”
Dig a bit deeper however, and you’ll find a contemporary issue-oriented drama that shines a revealing light on a historically marginalized community.
As fresh arrival Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) surveys the frozen lay of the land, he’s greeted by Will Sasso’s math teacher, Mike Johnston: “Welcome to the edge of the world — or the end of the world — depending on how long you’ve been here.”
He’s only half-joking, given that Nunavut has the distinction of claiming the highest teen suicide rate in North America, with widespread drug and alcohol addiction exposing an oppressive past and a bleak future.
Armed with youthful ambition and cultural misconceptions, Russ constantly bumps up against resistance from the Inuit community, schooled for being the latest white “Southerner” to pass through town raising unrealistic hopes without sticking around to see them through.
While ensuring they hit all the obligatory inspirational sports movie markers, director Miranda de Pencier and writers Graham Yost and Moira Walley-Beckett haven’t dodged hard sociological truths lurking beneath the gentle humor, engaging performances and stirringly photographed tundra, lending “The Grizzlies” a decisive, transformative edge.
Rated: R, for language, and some drug/alcohol use involving teens.
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Playing: Available on VOD