I see plenty of celebrities at Sundance each year, but I rarely get star-struck. I don't share this to brag, only to illustrate a point. This year I saw quite a few celebrities walking the streets and darting in and out of hotel conference rooms as they were meeting with the media. Emily Blunt, Andie MacDowell, Malin Ackerman, Ron Livingston, Ty Burrell, Mark Duplass, Rashida Jones, and Vera Farmiga, just to name a few. However, there was only one celebrity that gob-smacked me when I realized I was in the same room as him, standing just four or five feet away. It was David Duchovny. From 'X-Files' to 'Californication,' Duchovny has been one of my favorite actors for years. The point I'm getting at is the fact that the movie Duchovny was starring in, called 'Goats', was getting pretty lackluster word-of-mouth at the festival. My bias for Duchovny tried to block out the negativity. I really wanted to like 'Goats', simply because I loved Duchovny. It didn't happen.
'Goats' is a cut-and-paste coming-of-age story that relies far too heavily on the tropes associated with the genre. It meanders its way through the story of Ellis (Graham Phillips), who is another casualty of the rich kid syndrome. Ellis lives a privileged life with his mother (Vera Farmiga) who has a trust account. Only Ellis' problems are laid on far too thick to be believable. His mother is a new-age screwball who buries herself in the advice of healers, but doesn't pay attention to her own son. Ellis' father (Ty Burrell) moved away after the divorce and is only referred to by his mother as "Fucker Frank." Ellis' only friend in the world is Goat Man (David Duchovny). An earthy hippie who grows pot in his mother's backyard and goes on goat treks from time to time. Ellis loves pot and goats, so this friendship works rather well. Ellis ends up getting accepted to a prestigious prep school where we soon meet more rich kids with similar parental issues.
The problem with 'Goats' is that it plays out like a dreadfully underdeveloped young adult novel. There's always this feeling that the movie is hinting at a deeper inspection of Ellis' feelings and circumstances, but the movie never gets there. It never delves into anything deeper than a reunion Ellis has with his long lost father. It's a surface-dwelling film that has potential that never gets mined. Maybe in the hands of a more formidable director like Wes Anderson or even Marc Webb, this movie could find its spirit and embrace what it is. Instead, director Christopher Neil has crafted a depthless movie with shallow characters and a story that slowly ambles down the road with nowhere to go. It's the typical film festival movie that draws big audiences because of its gigantic ensemble cast, then leaves everyone feeling slightly disappointed.
I really wanted to like 'Goats' because of Duchovny. My strong partiality towards him carried me through the first half of the movie hoping that it would get better; it never really did.
'Goats' misses opportunity after opportunity to create a well-rounded coming-of-age drama. Its character remain underdeveloped until the very end. There are numerous story threads – like Ellis' would-be romance at boarding school or Goat Man's affair with the girl next door – that seem thrown in to fill up time. Minnie Driver even shows up for a five-second scene for no other reason other than for people in the audience to say, "Hey, is that Minnie Driver?"
Much like the poor goats, the movie easily loses its way and never finds the trail leading it back to relevancy. There's a touching story about a lost teenager buried somewhere in this material. This just isn't it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Goats' comes to Blu-ray on a 25GB disc. Image Entertainment has packaged it in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. It's coded as for Region A.
Shot digitally, 'Goats' has that all-too-familiar depthless digital look to it. Don't get me wrong, the picture is crisp and free of any unsightly blemishes, it's just that the non-filmic look of the movie gives way to flatter blacks and some unforgiving shadows here and there.
Sporting a warm color palette, like many dramedies, 'Goats' presents pleasingly nice colors from the earthy browns and yellows of the Arizona desert to the rich green hills of Ellis' boarding school back east. Detail also looks great. That's where the crispness of the picture comes in. Everything from the brickwork on the school to the wispy hairs of Duchovny's hippie beard is visible and easily discernible. I thought the night scenes lacked adequate punch though. Shadows featured a tad too much crush for my liking. Is it a bad presentation? Not by a long shot. It's just not demo quality, but you weren't really expecting that going in right?
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is a dialogue-heavy track given that the movie is dialogue-centric. The good thing is that all of the voices, whether whispered or not, are completely intelligible throughout the movie. There's never any trouble hearing what the characters have to say. I was a little surprised at the amount of surround sound activity that was in this movie though. Ellis' busy school features a lot of rear involvement as students mill about in the halls. The airport provides a natural sounding listening environment as announcements echo through the rear speakers like they should. Sounding like they're just out of reach. The surrounding Arizona wilderness if full of crickets chirping, birds singing, and goats bleating. For a talkative movie the rear channels were engaged much of the movie creating a well-rounded listening environment. LFE is light except for a couple instances of bass being needed for the soundtrack. All in all, it's an impressive sound mix for a movie focused on conversations.
'Goats' never really figures out the kind of story it wants to tell. It's all over the place, trying to fit every familiar face into the story with meaningful storylines. In the end it spreads itself way too thin and winds up being about nothing in particular. I couldn't get past its slow, meandering ways even in spite of my love for David Duchovny. However, if you're interested, the audio and video on this Blu-ray are pretty well done. It's a decent rental if you're looking for something a little off the beaten path.