‘Goats’ disappoints with nonexistent plotline
Published: Monday, August 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
What do you get when you combine furry four-legged animals, marijuana, a unique family dynamic and a desert landscape?
Well, I suppose you could get lots of results, but you also get Goats, a limited-release film that first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and premiered theatrically in early August.
I had high hopes for Goats, mostly because I thought it would be a fun, learn-an-amazing-life-lesson type of movie. It turned out to be neither of those things. I spent most of the movie wishing something would happen and that someone would become more of a dynamic character.
The plot of the film is fairly basic: Ellis Whitman (Graham Philips), 15 years old, is spending his last few days in Tucson, Ariz. before heading off to a prestigious East Coast boarding school.
In Tucson, Ellis lives with his mother Wendy (Vera Farmiga), who is divorced from his father, Frank (Ty Burrell). Self-absorbed and seemingly unaware of the outside world, Wendy’s laissez-faire parenting style often leaves Ellis to handle his own upbringing. She lives off of a trust fund and is more interested in mystical forces than paying the bills, which she leaves for Ellis to do. An already-strained relationship becomes even more difficult once Ellis leaves for school, which happens to be the same boarding school his dad attended.
As in many divorced families, Goats shows how Ellis is caught in the middle of his parents, choosing between staying home in Tucson with his mother or attening the same boarding school as his father. By choosing boarding school, he alienates his mother, but he does not fit perfectly into his father’s world either.
The saving grace of this broken family is Goat Man, a house guest-turned-gardener turned pseudo-father figure to Ellis. Goat Man moved into the pool house and never left. After Ellis’ real father left, Goat Man filled the void and became the only real father Ellis has ever known. Eccentric, free-spirited and earthy, Goat Man spends his time, besides growing marijuana, taking the family’s two pet goats on long treks through the Arizona desert.
Ellis joins Goat Man on his treks, bonding over a joint and having feeble conversations about the future. Goat Man does not hesitate to carry him on his back when Ellis’ new hiking boots give him blisters. Yet, even though they obviously share a strong bond, while Ellis is away at school, neither Ellis nor Goat Man write letters nor pick up the phone, despite how much they both long to communicate with each other.
But this already weird scenario isn’t enough. Of course, a little teenage attraction is thrown in for good measure.
Once Ellis gets to school, he encounters Minnie (Dakota Johnson), a “townie” who works in the dining hall and secretly borrows classic novels from the school library. Their relationship never takes flight, though Ellis acts interested and they share a few special moments. The movie plays up his interest in her, but leaves Minnie characterized as the local school whore. Minnie’s character, much like Frank’s, is an addition to the film that seems important, but adds nothing to the story.
Instead, both characters detract from the relationship between Goat Man and Ellis, an unrealized father-son bond. Wendy never takes off her parenting horse blinders. At the end of the movie, Ellis is still just as confused and alone; there was struggle, but no growth.
Unfortunately for first-time director Christopher Neil, who had previously served as a dialogue and acting coach on the sets of Star Wars and The Virgin Suicides, the best scene of the film was the backdrop for the credits: home videos of baby Ellis, Goat Man and Wendy laughing, playing and acting like a real family, which were so completely different than the absentee mother and almost-father in the rest of the movie.
The film was disjointed and messy, this is true. But maybe that’s the way it should be, leaving life unsettled and messy, just like the real world.