Director: Christopher Neil
Starring: Vera Farmiga (‘Up in the Air,’ ‘Safe House’), David Duchovny, Graham Phillips (TV’s ‘The Good Wife,’ ‘Evan Almighty’), Ty Burrell (TV’s ‘Modern Family,’ ‘Dawn of the Dead (2004)’) Keri Russell and Justin Kirk (TV’s ‘Weeds,’ ‘Modern Family’)
Comedy-of-age stories have often times come off as preachy and don’t always accurately portray the experiences teenagers must contend with throughout high school. While the new independent comedy ‘Goats’ does include several elements that many teens won’t be able to relate to, such as having to take care of an absent-minded hippie mother or having a drug-growing pool taker, there are many relationships and feelings that they will be able to understand. Based on the novel of the same name by Mark Poirier, ‘Goats’ offers an intriguing look into the motivations of adolescents who feel emotionally neglected.
‘Goats’ follows 15-year-old Ellis (played by Graham Phillips), the most mature member of his eccentric family. His mother, Wendy (portrayed by Vera Farmiga), is a New Age hippie who neglects to take care of their house or commit to her parental responsibilities. Instead, she spends all of her time working on self-help rituals with her hustler boyfriend Bennet (portrayed by Justin Kirk). She also employs Goat Man (played by David Duchovny), the goat-herding sage who has lived with the family in their pool house since Ellis was a child. Despite growing and smoking marijuana, Goat Man teaches Ellis the meaning of stability and commitment.
Due to Wendy’s quirkiness, Ellis’ father, Franky (portrayed by Ty Burrell), left their Tucson house years before. He starts a new life in Washington, D.C. with his second wife, Judy (played by Keri Russell), with whom he’s having a baby. To feel closer to Frank, Ellis decides to leave Arizona and enroll in the same East Coast prep school that his father attended. As Ellis reconnects with his estranged father, he realizes his life with his mother and Goat Man starkly contrast normal family life.
Christopher Neil, who made his feature film directorial debut with ‘Goats,’ made the right decision in hiring Phillips to portray the responsible main character in the coming-of-age independent comedy. Ellis is initially shown as just knowing how to take care of himself and everyone around him, due to his mother’s eccentric lifestyle. However, as the film continues, Phillips perfectly portrayed Ellis as wanting to act out in order to receive attention from the adults around him. While away at school, he learns how to turn his parents and their differing lifestyles against each other, in order to get what he wants.
Despite his fierce independence and determination to help everyone around him, Ellis truly grows as a person throughout the course of the film. His relationship with Frank is the most intriguing one in ‘Goats,’ as it shows a teenager wanting to spend time with the father he barely knew growing up, instead of wanting to run away from him. He believably comes to accept that his parents are two truly different people, but they both love him in their own ways.
Burrell, who’s currently most well-known for playing Phil Dunphy on ABC’s hit sitcom ‘Modern Family,’ also showed a versatility to his acting through his portrayal of Frank. While he wants to build a closer relationship with his son, at the urging of Judy, he often questions the reckless behavior his son engages in while at school. But he comes to fully embrace his son’s ways, and shows him that he’ll accept him for who he is, even if he doesn’t always agree with what he does.
While the Goat Man doesn’t have as many scenes as Ellis and his parents, Duchovny still amusingly portrays his character as the insightful comic relief in ‘Goats.’ Ellis looked up to the Goat Man growing up, as he continuously allowed him to take whatever path he wanted to in life without judging. While the Goat Man didn’t always live up to his full potential as a scientist, instead doing drugs, engaging in sexual relationships with much younger woman and disappearing for months at a time, he always provided perceptive advice to Ellis whenever he needed it.
‘Goats’ is an interesting, thought-provoking coming-of-age story that showcases the extreme measures teens will take in order to get attention. While Ellis was forced to mature quickly, due to his mother’s self-serving, hippie ways, he took an emotional risk to have a normal life by moving across the country. While Ellis wouldn’t immediately admit it, he sought the normal parent-child relationship with his father, and strive to do whatever it takes to get it. The actors’ ease at portraying their characters and showcasing their emotional arcs throughout the comedy made the story relatable to parents and teens alike.
Written by: Karen Benardello