The goats don't make a lot of sense in Goats, a film shot and set here in Tucson. There's plenty of blame to go around in this film, though, so that's as good a place as any to start.
Ellis (Graham Phillips) explains that his family's live-in pool man and landscaper, Javier (David Duchovny), began taking him on treks with his goats when he was a boy, introducing him to pot a short time later.
Everywhere Javier goes in the film, the goats follow. He's called "Goat Man" periodically, but outside of giving Duchovny something unusual to do, the animals don't add much to the scenery. They could be a metaphor for Ellis' own wanderings, but that's a pretty thin connection, and one that a coming-of-age story does not need. You see, now that he's 15, Ellis is moving off to the East Coast prep school his father attended, and he's reflective about what he'll leave behind in Tucson.
His dad (Ty Burrell from Modern Family) was never around much. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his new wife (Keri Russell), something that consistently boils the blood of Ellis' new-age mother (Vera Farmiga). As he maintains some distance from his mom for the first time, Ellis begins to truly feel independent and decisive. He's not the typical prep-school student, preferring cannabis to Aeschylus, and Ellis discovers that he's OK not following anyone's example. Wow, what a trajectory.
Does anything in this movie actually go anywhere? Of the performances, only that of Phillips hits the mark. Duchovny is not much of a character actor, so he doesn't work as the long-bearded goat-herder; Farmiga gets sent into hysterics by the smallest detail; Burrell isn't around enough to make a big impact.
This is the first feature for Christopher Neil, who is the latest branch in a family tree of filmmaking. His uncle (by marriage) is Francis Ford Coppola—and as an acting and dialogue coach, his name turns up in credits for films by Sofia Coppola; her brother Roman; and her ex-husband, Spike Jonze. Keeping it in the extended family, actor and musician Jason Schwartzman (a Coppola nephew) co-wrote the film's score.
But as the saying goes, that and a quarter will buy you a cup of coffee. Neil's debut film has no center, and without that, there's no balance anywhere. Case in point: Most coming-of-age stories feature a love interest. In Goats, Ellis falls for a pretty girl (Dakota Johnson) he meets at school. But the film fails to advance that subplot, much like it fails to move anything else forward. Something should happen between them, but it never does.
It feels as though a critical piece is missing around the end of the second act. There's never a big climactic moment, other than an ill-fated goat trek that Ellis and Javier take to Mexico. But even that doesn't change the current very much. And because there's no knockout, nothing much to process, and no true development on display, Goats really drags, which is tough to accomplish in around 90 minutes.
Shot primarily in Tucson over the course of a few weeks in early 2011, Goats doesn't really go out of its way to distinguish the Sonoran Desert much, not that it would need to for a broad audience. Still, with everything there is to see around here, it's a remarkably run-of-the-mill travel guide. At the very least, it did pump a few hundred thousand bucks into the local economy. Whether or not you should give some of that back is another story.