Every few years, a cult classic emerges from the morass of contemporary Canadian film. In 2002 it was Men With Brooms; last year, it was Bon Cop, Bad Cop; and this year, it could turn out to be Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser. It certainly follows the winning formula: the comedic rise of the underdog.
Rock, Paper, Scissors, created by April Mullen and Tim Doiron, is a mockumentary about a professional “tosser” competing in the Rock, Paper, Scissors (RSP) Championships. Gary Brewer used to sell hubcaps, but after getting into a fight at a tire fire one night, he meets Finnegan O’Reilley, former RSP champion. From then on his life changes forever. Gary and his girlfriend, Holly Brewer – no relation, yet – dedicate their lives to winning the championships, and scoring a Gary Brewer playing card. But since the death of their dog, Rufus, Gary has refused to play paper. Can this professional tosser come out on top without that vital move?
Outlandish as it may seem, there really is a Rock Paper Scissors Championship, although the film’s hero is fictional. (Anyone can enter the international competition, held every fall in Toronto, for a $30 fee.) There were over 500 participants and 1,000 spectators at last year’s event, when the film was in production.
But for Canadians who cannot make the trek to Toronto, there’s still a chance to play. Doiron and Mullen are currently taking it across the country on their own Rock, Paper, Scissors Cult Tour, holding RSP competitions alongside the screening, before they release the film in theatres nation-wide. The McGill championship was held last Tuesday, and U2 Music student Kevin Wentzel won with his very own power toss, the Puncheroo. Since the champions of the university competitions will generally be unable to attend Doiron and Mullen’s Grand National University Tosser Championship in Toronto in April, winners like Wentzel will be impersonated by actors from the film. But the university champion whose tosser stand-in wins at the Toronto games won’t be left empty-handed: he will score a role in the directors’ next film; Wentzel may just be Canada’s next movie star.
But hype tour aside, what makes Rock, Paper, Scissors different from other Canadian cult films? It boils down to the fact that you don’t have to be Canadian to appreciate it; we can appreciate the story without needing to understand its cultural references. While it is certainly a self-consciously Canadian production, this isn’t a comedy that mocks the intricacies of Quebec-Ontario relations. And it isn’t about a curling team. If anything, it explicitly rejects Canadiana: the film has “no beavers, or maple syrup, with no reference to skiing or hockey,” Doiron says. This is refreshing for a Canadian film, which could have easily turned to national clichés. Still, the two directors are very proud that there is only one foreign element in the film: Irish Academy Award winners Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who wrote the song “The Frames” for Rock, Paper, Scissors.
In most Canadian cult films, the question emerges: do we enjoy it for its quality content, or because it is from Canada, and thus a source of national pride? Take Bon Cop Bad Cop, for example. It received rave reviews and was a huge hit. But it’s hard to tell if it was a truly successful comedy, or whether audiences just got a kick out of watching Canadian stereotypes in action. This is not the case with Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser, because it isn’t explicitly Canadian; it can be appreciated by anyone who relishes stories about the underdog, mockumentaries, or even just playing rock, paper, scissors.
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