Saturday movie review: Goats

Coming-of-age films tend to be character-driven stories with minimal action. GOATS is no exception. The comedic tale of one young man's coming into his own and realizing that loved ones are still worth loving despite their flaws and failings has nearly no drama. It has lots of characters, though. As in, What a character! kinds of characters.

Goats movie

The main—and least wacky—character is Ellis (Graham Phillips), a 15-year-old kid soon departing for prep school, leaving his Tucson home where his eccentric, needy, and New Age mother, Wendy (Vera Farmiga), raised him without his dad (Frank, played by Ty Burrell), who left when Ellis was a baby. Wendy didn't raise Ellis alone, though, as Wendy and Frank's friend "Goat Man" (a repulsively hirsute David Duchovny) stuck around and lived in the pool house after Frank seemingly abandoned the family.

Goat Man served as the primary male figure in Ellis' life as Frank rarely visited or contacted Ellis or Wendy (who still harbors deep ill will toward Frank, whom she endlessly refers to as F**ker Frank). Goat Man and Wendy have no romantic connection. Instead, they're connected by a mutual love and adoration for Ellis, whom Goat Man regularly takes along on "treks" with his goats, teaching Ellis about life...and how to smoke weed. 

Ellis' choice to attend an East Coast prep school—the same school his dad attended—and the initial departure sets Wendy off into a tizzy and loony search for herself with the help of smarmy Bennett (Justin Kirk). Once Ellis is on the far side of the country and realizes Wendy is off in her own world and Goat Man off in his, loneliness leads Ellis to accept offers from Frank to visit him and his new (and pregnant) wife Judy, played by Keri Russell.


Ellis—who, despite his age, has always been more adult than the adults caring for him—matures in unexpected ways during his freshman year at prep school. Wendy, Goat Man, and Frank mature, too. Each character comes of age, in a sense, redesigning their connections with Ellis as well admitting to the good and the bad in themselves.

Phillip Graham makes a fabulous Ellis. He seems real, like an honest-to-goodness real kid struggling with realizing much of what he knew about his unconventional family unit wasn't the full story, the true story. Ellis does his best to be strong and sensible in a whirlwind of family wackiness that would trip up any youth.

Interestingly, most of the youth around him in the boarding school, the kids from conventional families, seem to have it even worse than Ellis, seem far less assured of not only their place in the world, but their relevance and value in their families, too. Ellis' roommate Barney (Nicholas Lobue) has an especially poignant struggle that makes the little turd hard to resist.

Vera Farmiga again plays a mom railing against the emptying of her nest, as she did in AT MIDDLETON. In that film, she sought control to avoid the pain of letting go. In GOATS, though, she willfully lets go of controlling anything, even herself, and instead succumbs to the free-spirited (and narcissistic) whims encouraged by free-loading Bennett. The extent to which Farmiga took the whiny, poor me, my kid's left home act in GOATS did grate on my nerves at times.

David Duchovny plays a pot-smoking oddball fairly well. Though, I must say, his unkempt beard truly made me a little nauseous. (I've apparently read too many articles on Facebook mentioning what can typically be found in men's long beards.)

GOATS was directed by first-time director Christopher Neil and written by Mark Poirier based on his 2000 novel of the same name. The characters are well drawn in the screenplay and well fleshed out and made real by the cast of the film.

Here, Ty Burrell, David Duchovny, and Vera Farmiga talk GOATS at Sundance 2012:

GOATS (Rated R for drug content including teen drug and alcohol use, language, sexuality and nudity—Duchovny's butt several times) was an official selection at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and is now available on DVD and other formats. Find out more on the film's official website.