A singularly unpleasant and ugly topic film about a profoundly unpleasant and ugly topic, Goat possesses all the directness of a fraternity paddle whack across the keister, but with only a fraction of the subtlety. As to which experience is more enjoyable to live through, it’s pretty much a tie.
In that way, watching the movie is a little like watching all five Red Asphalt movies, the high school driver ed films produced by the California Highway Patrol, back to back–only with the crashed cars and distracted drivers replaced with warm beer and burly young men abusing each other.
The film exists with a singular purpose: to dissuade anyone from thinking that fraternity hazing is somehow an acceptable part of the young adult experience. (The film’s release coincides with National Hazing Prevention Week.) In that way, watching the movie is a little like watching all five Red Asphalt movies, the high school driver ed films produced by the California Highway Patrol, back to back–only with the crashed cars and distracted drivers replaced with warm beer and burly young men abusing each other. Nevertheless, the film fails in this myopic goal within the first 10 minutes, when a sober Brad (Ben Schnetzer) makes the wise choice of leaving his brother Brett (Nick Jonas) at a coke-fueled frat party, only to be jumped by a couple of carjacking townies who beat him to an inch of his life. See, kids, you’re screwed either way.
(1/2 a star out of 4)
Directed by: Andrew Neel
Written by: Andrew Neel, David Gordon Green, and Mike Roberts
Starring: Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas, and James Franco
Running time: 96 minutes
The film is taken from Brad Land’s memoir of the same name. In the book version, the trauma our hero initially experiences is meant to add psychological depth to what happens next by juxtaposing random violence with the kind that is ostensibly signed up for, and also by portraying Brad as a victim of PTSD. But the movie is only interested in the alternately homoerotic and homophobic details of frat hazing, not psychology. No one conveys a deeper understanding of what causes men to torture each other in the name of brotherhood beyond, “Dude, it happened to me.”
Not that there are any fully realized characters here with depths available to be plumbed. The frat bros with Duke-y names like Dixon, Beatty, and Chance are all run-of-the-mill jerks, with Brad and Brett and the various tortured plebes are simply nondescript. (While the film takes place at the fictional Brookman College, Land’s book was set at Clemson). We’ll have to wait till he is given a real script to decide if the youngest Jonas Brother can really act—it’s unlikely John Gielgud could have done much with lines like, “I thought you said she had a fuckin’ boyfriend, bro.” That is typical from a script where if you removed the words bro, dude, and variations on the word fuck, all you would be left with is blank pages interrupted with the occasional bitch and pussy.
A minor pulse starts beating when James Franco shows up halfway through as a frat brother who graduated in 2000 (“I have a kid, bro”) to highjack the proceedings Spring Breakers style. But he quickly disappears so the boys can get back to slapping each other across the face, mud wrestling, and peeing on the one locked in a dog kennel. There isn’t a touch of humor in any of this, and the look of the film is grimy, as if the filmmakers were under the mistaken idea that to cause a chuckle or light anything beyond fluorescents would give the proceedings a dignity they don’t deserve. No, it would have just helped make a few of these moments worth enduring. By the end, you feel like one of the pledges disappointed by the outcome of all that humiliation: Why did we even bother? Dude, I have no idea. I have no idea, bro.