The Grizzlies Parent Guide
A compelling story of the resilience of the human spirit.
Parent Movie Review
Can you name Canada’s national sport? If you picked hockey, you’d be wrong. But so would almost everyone in the Great White North. The official national sport of Canada is actually lacrosse. What, you may ask, is lacrosse? Lacrosse is a team sport invented centuries ago by the Algonquin tribe of the St. Lawrence Valley. Players carry sticks fitted with small netted baskets that are used to throw a ball from player to player and into the opposing team’s goal. Lacrosse is also the sport at the heart of The Grizzlies, a thought-provoking film based on a true story and set in the Canadian territory of Nunavut.
It’s 2004 and the remote Northern town of Kugluktuk is suffering through an epidemic of substance abuse, domestic violence, and poverty. Into this troubled community comes Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer), an earnest and callow young history teacher reeling from culture shock. Fresh out of university, Sheppard is biding time until he can get his dream job at a tony prep school. But the Kugluktuk school is worlds away from the academic atmosphere he’s aiming for. His students are disengaged, playing truant, refusing to do homework…and killing themselves. One commits suicide before the beginning of the year, and another does so after a break-up with his girlfriend. Desperate to find some way to teach pride, teamwork, and self-discipline to the teens, Sheppard begs and cajoles his way into starting a lacrosse team and then bribes one of the students into getting kids to turn up for practice.
Some viewers will complain that The Grizzlies falls into two movie tropes: the underdog sport film and the white savior narrative. They would be partially correct. Yes, this is a movie about a team facing long odds…but it doesn’t hew to a formulaic narrative arc. And, yes, it also follows the basic outline of a white savior film, but the movie makes very clear that the kids save themselves and Sheppard is only part of their story.
Parents considering The Grizzlies will be less likely to complain about these criticisms and more prone to object to some of the negative content in the movie. The first issue of concern will be suicide, with three occurring in the film. It is worth pointing out that the suicides are critical to the story and are not portrayed in graphic detail; in fact, the deaths occur off screen. There are also frequent scenes of domestic assault and references to the traumatic legacy of residential schools. The violence in the film feeds a vicious cycle of substance abuse and both teens and adults are frequently seen very drunk. There is also significant profanity, including a half dozen sexual expletives.
Negative content aside, The Grizzlies is well worth viewing for teens and their parents. It educates audiences about the harsh living conditions in the far North and about the tortured legacy of residential schools. It introduces audiences to some talented Inuit actors – Paul Nutarariaq, Anna Lambe, Emerald MacDonald, Booboo Stewart. And beyond that, it is a compelling story of the resilience of the human spirit. Watching Sheppard’s students overcome hopelessness and despair as they work together, face challenges with courage and optimism, and fight to improve their lives is truly inspiring. As Sheppard quotes with reference to his students, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” And what lies within those young people is more valuable than all the diamonds buried under their permafrost.Directed by Miranda de Pencier. Starring Emerald MacDonald, Ben Schnetzer, Paul Nutarariaq, Ricky Marty-Pahtaykan, Booboo Stewart, Tantoo Cardinal. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release April 19, 2019. Updated April 18, 2020
Watch the trailer for The Grizzlies
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Grizzlies rated Not Rated? The Grizzlies is rated Not Rated by the MPAA
Violence: The movie features three suicides: in the first, we see a young man aiming a gun at himself. The camera pans away and we hear the shot. In the second suicide, we are told the teen died and see his burial. In the third, we see a rope and hear that the young man died; we also see his burial. A student punches his teacher in the face. A girl is shown with blood on her face after having been hit by her boyfriend. A young man steals food to feed his little brother. A teacher gets frustrated and throws his curriculum binder. A girl tattoos her own forehead: we see a small amount of blood. We see multiple scenes of domestic assault. A girl is frequently hit or pushed by her own sister. A young man is often struck by his father. He is seen with bruises and abrasions on his torso. There is reference to his mother having a broken arm and a concussion. A teenager speaks about his father’s past trauma in residential schools. His father is shown resisting arrest. A young man narrowly saves a dog from being hit by a truck. Teenage boys punch and shove each other. A teenager vomits after running too hard. Lacrosse players jostle and push each other as part of the game. An Inuit family is shown butchering up an animal and eating its meat and organs raw: blood is shown on their hands and faces. An elder tells a legend that begins with a woman having her fingers chopped off. A frustrated teacher throws a chair across a gym.
Sexual Content: None.
Profanity: The movie contains about two dozen profanities, specifically seven sexual expletives, six scatological curses, four terms of deity, six anatomical expressions and a few minor expletives. A student makes vulgar comments to his teacher in his indigenous language.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Teenagers are seen smoking cigarettes, smoking marijuana, and drinking alcohol to the point of serious inebriation. Adults are also seen very drunk. A school teacher is shown drinking and driving. Teachers are shown drinking alcohol as a way to cope with stress. Empty alcohol bottles are frequently seen in people’s homes.
Page last updated April 18, 2020
The Grizzlies Parents' Guide
Suicide is a serious public health issue in many communities. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or urges, please reach out for help.
In the US, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
In Canada, you can phone, text, or live chat with volunteer counselors at the Kids Help Phone.
In the UK, reach out to these organizations.
What can you do to help a friend who is struggling with suicidal thoughts?
Residential schools have left a terrible legacy throughout indigenous communities in Canada, Australia and the United States. What kinds of attitudes led to the creation of these abusive institutions? Do you think those attitudes have changed? What do you think needs to be done to reconcile First Nations peoples with the governments and citizens of the countries in which they reside? Is there anything you can do to help achieve reconciliation with the indigenous peoples in your country?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Can’t get enough of the Canadian Arctic? You will likely enjoy Paul Souders’ Arctic Solitaire: A Boat, a Bay, and the Quest for the Perfect Bear. For more stunning Canadian scenery – and to plan a trip to see it in person – check out the National Geographic Guide to the National Parks of Canada.
For books featuring the Inuit people of Canada, you can start with Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk’s Sanaaq: An Inuit Novel. Originally written in Inuttitut, this novel comprises 48 episodes which trace the impact of the mid-19th century arrival of white people on Sanaaq, her daughter Qumaq and their community.
Also set in the Canadian North is M J McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk series. This Inuit hunter solves mysteries in Quebec, beginning with White Heat. Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton tells the searing true story of Margaret Pokiak and her experience in a residential school. Farley Mowat records the story of the vanishing Ihalmiut people of the North in People of the Deer.
Related home video titles:
If you are looking for movies where sports provide a way out for oppressed or disenfranchised groups, there are plenty to choose from.
A League of Their Own is set in the middle of World War II. With baseball players fighting in the war, an All American Girls Baseball League puts women on the ball diamond.
Jess wants to play football (soccer) but her traditional parents want her to marry. Bend It Like Beckham is the story of fighting for a dream against cultural pressures.
African American runner Jesse Owens wins Olympic gold in Berlin. Race tells the triumphant story of his victory in Hitler’s Germany. In McFarland, USA, a track coach changes the lives of the underprivileged kids in his high school.