[Review] – Goats

1 Sep

Title: Goats
Year: 2012
Director: Christopher Neil
Writer: Mark Poirier, based on his own novel
Starring: David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Graham Phillips, Keri Russell, Justin Kirk, Ty Burrell
MPAA Rating: R, drug content including teen drug and alcohol use, language, sexuality and nudity
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 4.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%
Metacritic: 38

Ellis has a really strange kind of life. He’s fifteen and about leave home for an East Coast prep school. Leaving home means leaving his mother, Wendy, this New Age hippie who’s all about self-help rituals and is currently dating a hustler played by Justin Kirk. And it also means leaving the paternal figure he’s known for most of his life, a seriously kooky individual known as Goat Man who’s been living in his pool house for the last few years, his name coming from the fact that he’s a sage who herds goats, living there free of charge in exchange for some helping out with some chores. Goat Man’s been teaching Ellis some earthy stuff, not academic knowledge but lessons about commitment and mind power.

So, as Ellis leaves all of that West Coast stuff behind to go to the East Coast environment his own estranged father once attended, the two kind of ideologies and lifestyles come to a clash. I actually quite like that general conceit, taken from the 2000 debut novel of the same name by Mark Poirier, the same guy who adapted it for the screen. The film rights were optioned back in 2002 by Christopher Neil, an acting coach on films like Being John Malkovich and The Virgin Suicides, and it took a full decade for it to actually get made, with Mr. Neil behind the camera making his directorial debut and present it at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Yet, even though I like the idea for the film, and I respect the journey it took to actually make it, and I like the films Mr. Neil had credits on before sitting behind the camera, and I love some of the people in the cast here, I just didn’t like Goats. I mean, it’s not a horrible film, but parts of it feels kind of amateurish, as it blandly treads familiar ground. And I hate to say it, but a lot of the fault is Mr. Neil’s. The direction is just nowhere to be found here, a film that meanders at will, over-relying in some kind of quirkiness that doesn’t really work and it just ends up feeling rather like a work-in-progress, to be honest.

That cast that I mention has people I like quite a bit in it includes Vera Farmiga as Wendy. She’s an actress who I love, who gave one of the best performances of last year in her directorial debut Higher Ground and who’s here as this hippie mother in a portrayal that’s actually quite unsympathetic, a woman that spends her time being narcissistic and feeling sorry for herself and bitter towards her ex-husband, while putting on a zen front with all this New Age stuff. She’s actually quite committed to the role, really, but she’s in a movie that makes little sense and that never really adds up to much at all, so it’s pretty much all for naught.

The coming-of-age-story could be cool, with Ellis, played by Graham Phillips from The Good Wife, trying to cope with a totally new environment and getting to know his dad, played by Modern Family‘s Ty Burrell, all over again, even if he is more focussed on his gorgeous new wife, played by the appropriately gorgeous Keri Russell. But it just doesn’t work because these characters are so bland and neither the actors nor us, the audience, can connect with them. It just feels like stuff we have seen before done way better; Ellis is like a bad Holden Caulfield, and the situations he experiences are the typical teenage-angst episodes we see too much of nowadays.

That word, by the way, “episodic”, I use on purpose. Because Goats really does feel like these little episodes that are so poorly strung together, the film just worried from getting from one to next no matter how it achieves it. Little quirky events, with little quirky characters; we’ve seen that before, and this is done by a director that just doesn’t know how to guide these characters and actors, and seriously fails at establishing an appropriate tone. That may sound pretty harsh, but it’s just that I wanted more from these actors and from this director who definitely loves this project but that just couldn’t ground it to be something more than an overly-familiar, just-pleasant-enough twee entertainment.

The struggle that we have to connect with is the fact that Ellis has all these parental figures and has to figure out how to navigate that. His mother the hippie, Goat Man the only paternal figure slash pot supplier, his estranged biological father and his father’s new wife, who more often than not seems to be the one who actually understands him the best. Yet none of this seems to be really all that interesting, and once you really get into it, you may realize that not much is happening at all.

It sucks because these are all very capable performers, with David Duchovny, who plays Goat Man, providing the only unsatisfactory performance of the bunch. I mean, Mr. Phillips does everything that’s asked of him; then you have Ms. Farmiga who’s given a role that demands a tenth of what she can give, and yet she really tries and do so much with it, and then there’s Mr. Burrell, who’s a really solid character actor, portraying a dad who once lost his son but who in the meantime has learned enough from life to know to make an effort to reconnect with him.

I was disappointed here. Or maybe not disappointed because it’s not as though I was expecting something, but this is just the kind of film that’s super forgettable. I liked some of the performances quite a bit, but it doesn’t erase the fact that the movie just meanders without much purpose and gives us stuff that we’ve seen a million times before and we’ll see a million times again in the future. Unremarkable stuff.

Grade: C

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One Response to “[Review] – Goats”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Vera Farmiga and David Duchovny and his Goats (2012) | entertain yourself - September 11, 2012

    […] Artfully Bedraggled Film Reviews: “… meanders without much purpose…” […]

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