Judge Bill Gibron wishes he had large sock filled with goat manure for this mediocre movie.
You can't choose your family…or can you?
Ellis (Graham Phillips, Stolen) is the typical post-millennial teen. He is stuck out in the middle of the Arizona desert with his whack job, former flower child mother (Vera Farmiga, Source Code) and a live-in oddity who grows weed and does landscaping known simply as Goat Man (David Duchovny, The Joneses). His father (Ty Burrell, Fair Game) lives out East, has a new wife (Keri Russell, Waitress), and now wants his boy to attend the prestigious Gates Academy, mostly as a means of getting him away from his drug-addled, pro-PC environment. Ellis is actually eager to go, and once he arrives, he befriends his chubby roommate (Nicholas Lobue, Parenthood) while falling for a girl (Dakota Johnson, 21 Jump Street) who works in the school dining room. Of course, she harbors her own enigmatic secret. Eventually, Ellis feels an internal tug of war going on between the weird, but warm, home he left and the cold, if still comfortable, place he's at now.
Goats is not god-awful, but you can tell it has the potential to be. From the moment we meet Vera Farmiga and her ex-hippie-by-way-of-New-Age-nonsense caricature, we know we're in trouble. Then David Duchovny shows up as Captain Caveman's less handsome brother, and any serious subtext just sinks. Goats wants to have it both ways, to explore a young man's quest for identity (read: the typical cliched coming of age) while adding enough outlying quirk to make the ride pleasant and powerful. When it centers on our hero and his distant father and his new wife, things kind of work. Sort of. We witness a real purpose, people trying to rebuild what was lost after years of anger and alienation. But then director Christopher Neil (making his feature film debut behind the lens) keeps going back to Arizona and the weirdo collective Ellis left behind. Most of these moments are aimed at providing much-needed comic relief, but resonate with little laughter.
Another problem is the script. Written by Mark Poirier (Smart People) and based on his own novel, the storyline is too simple, the attention to detail too geared toward the obvious. Would it surprise you to learn that Ellis' father has a reason behind his years of non-caring? Or that his mother's mania can also be chalked up to a disguised dynamic? How about Goat Man—who we later learn may be named "Javier" (or may not be)? Is he just a colorful eccentric, or is there a purpose beyond his shaggy bohemia? None of this really matters, since the movie is only interested in driving Ellis and everyone around him toward a meandering, meaningless conclusion. There will be no epiphanies here, no telling denouements (though a last act confession by our hero's wannabe heartthrob comes the closest). Even more telling, there is no real motive. Ellis seemed happy, if hindered, by living with his mom and his weed-smoking guru. Life at Gates is no less liberating.
So Goats gives us characters we don't care about, a narrative that adds up to nothing, and good performances that can't save middling direction. Is there anything that warrants a recommendation? Unless you're into organic chevre, the answer is "no." At least the Blu-ray release from Image is excellent. The film was shot on digital, and it shows. The 1.85:1/1080p image is stunning. The colors pop, the landscapes look remarkable, and everything cinematographer Wyatt Troll touches looks incredible. It's a polished, professional presentation. The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix also inspires confidence. The movie is dialogue-heavy, but the back channels do provide both ambient and spatial elements. The added content centers solidly on the EPK side of things, but the deleted scenes and minor making-of more than make up for the otherwise ordinary (trailer, home movies, still photos).
In sports, the goat is someone we all blame for the otherwise preordained success (and eventual lack thereof) of our favorite team. Something similar happens here. Goats offers nothing new, and fails its filmic genre every step of the way.
Guilty. A meandering, meaningless mess.
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