Ellis, the precocious 15-year-old product of a broken marriage, played by appealing newcomer Graham Phillips, is the hero of Goats, an offbeat but nonetheless pedestrian ensemble piece directed by Christopher Neil from a screenplay by Mark Jude Poirier based on his own coming-of-age novel of the same title. Ellis lives in Tucson with his bohemian mother Wendy (the excellent Vera Farmiga), her Speedo-wearing bisexual boyfriend Bennet (Justin Kirk), and a bearded, pot-growing, goat-breeding hippie and part-time botanist named Goat Man (a laughably miscast David Duchovny, looking like a Jesus freak on acid) who feeds Ellis with a mind-blowing supply of drugs and roams the cacti with his two pet goats, Lance and Frieda. Then, in a mind-blowing change of culture and climate, Ellis gets shipped off to a New England prep school where he is strong-armed into joining the track team, and falls in love with a dining-hall waitress named Minnie (Dakota Johnson) who services the entire student body sexually for extra income. He is also carted off to Washington, D.C. for a reunion visit with his rich preppie father (Ty Burrell) and his new wife (Keri Russell), both of whom turn out to be nicer than his stoned mother led him to believe. Shuttled back and forth between the Arizona deserts and the East Coast snowfalls, Ellis has an unconventional upbringing, exposed to the foibles of crazy adult influences. It’s not always as interesting as it sounds.
His mom lives a life of spiritual searching, Hopi Indian seminars, tofu turkey and shaman rituals, financed by her ex-husband’s trust fund—all cover-ups for escapism and misery. His dad is self-absorbed, with a young wife and a new baby. Goat Man, who is really an Irish pothead named Stephen, exposes the kid to drug smuggling. At school, Ellis gets mugged, robbed and kicked in the testicles. The movie shows Ellis inching his way from adolescence into young adulthood with a structure of too many events and nothing happening of any consequence. By the time Duchovny shaves off enough hair to revitalize an entire baldness clinic, you wonder what it’s all about anyway. Ms. Farmiga is the only one who seems to be having any fun, as an aging flower child stuck in an earlier decade and addicted to healing vortex workshops and primal screams. Mellow, but very much a work in progress, Goats has a bland but overcrowded menu that could benefit from a little feta.
Running Time 92 minutes
Written by Mark Jude Poirier
Directed by Christopher Neil
Starring Vera Farmiga, David Duchovny and Keri Russell