Movie Review: Goats

Ellia (Graham Phillips) gets a ride from Goat Man (David Duchovny)

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Everyone’s a child except for a 15-year-old boy named Ellis (Graham Phillips). He’s about to leave his artsy Southwestern home in Tucson, Arizona in order to attend the Gates Academy, a prestigious prep school in the East … not that anyone takes much notice. His über-self-centered mother Wendy (Vera Farmiga), covered in designer turquoise from head to foot, takes pride in the fact that she’s never written a check in her life, yet always knows exactly how much money she’s got in her well-padded trust fund. Given the number of lovers rotating in and out of Wendy’s bed at a dizzying speed, the only father figure in Ellis’ life has been a goat-trekking, pot-growing hirsute fellow known as “Goat Man” (David Duchovny). A sage of cactus country, he imparts to his young friend Ellis whatever vague life lessons that may occur to him – in between tokes, of course.

Meanwhile in Connecticut, Ellis’ father Frank (Ty Burrell), called “Fucker Frank” by his ex-wife Wendy, is an uptight businessman who hasn’t seen his son in years. But since Ellis is about to carry on Frank’s legacy at Gates, Frank’s more invested in how his boy does, rather than who his boy is.

Screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier adapted Goats from his own novel, which may not have been the wisest choice. The story lacks focus, the characters floating in and out of scenes without much to say or do. The concept calls to mind the sharp-witted Running with Scissors, Augusten Burroughs’ 2002 memoir turned into the 2006 movie of the same name. In both films, a teenage boy has to act as the adult to his clinically loopy mother, all the while dealing with an absent father and a plethora of wacky characters encircling his life. But where Running with Scissors crowds the screen with fascinating people, all marvelously strange in their own unique ways, Goats is a pale echo of a bright adolescent boy lost in other peoples’ Wonderlands.

(l to r) Graham Phillips, Ty Burrell, Keri Russell

Perhaps meant to be ironic, the mother cries out for her absent child, but never thinks to actually phone him at school. Goat Man simply forgets about Ellis altogether, lost in a haze of herb. The mother’s latest boyfriend (Justin Kirk’s Bennet) plays a 2D, one-note nasty. Additionally jarring, we get a stern Frank, unable to disguise his distaste for his son, though Ellis has done very little to deserve such treatment. However, in the third act, Frank inexplicably comes around, suddenly turning into a version of the super-dad that he plays on television’s Modern Family. Neither extreme works.

For all the veteran talent driving this minor vehicle, it’s the kids who fare the best. Graham Phillips (known for his continuing role as the son in The Good Wife) redeems himself well, hitting all the right marks as the sweet, sincere teenage Ellis who still wants to believe that adults are inherently good. As his anxiety-laden roommate – the pudgy, scholastically challenged Barney – Nicholas Lobue also turns in a compelling performance.

And speaking of, um, kids, let’s not forget the goats, Lance and Frieda. When it comes to chewing the scenery … they’re born pros.

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Rating on a scale of 5 Capricorns: 2

Release Date: August 10, 2012 (ltd.)
Directed by: Christopher Neil
Screenplay by: Mark Jude Poirier
Based on the novel “Goats” by: Mark Jude Poirier
Cast: David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Graham Phillips, Ty Burrell, Justin Kirk, Keri Russell, Anthony Anderson, Dakota Johnson, Nicholas Lobue
Running Time: 94 minutes

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 450+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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