Leading the charge is Ellis (Graham Phillips), a 15-year-old kid who is about to fly off to a prestigious prep school. His loopy, New Age-y mother Wendy (Vera Farmiga) doesn't want him to go, for several reasons: the anxiety of being separated from her child, the fact that Ellis manages her bills, and most importantly, that the prep school is the same one Ellis' father / Wendy's ex-husband (Ty Burrell) attended. Known as "Fucker Frank" around the household, Ellis hardly knows his father, but he realizes that his decision to attend his father's alma mater will get his attention, and likely a request to visit.
Ellis' other close friend is his surrogate father figure: Julian, nicknamed Goat Man (David Duchovny) is a pot-loving botanist who lives in Ellis' family's workshed. He cleans their pool, does the gardening, and tends to the goats, occasionally disappearing to go on vision quests out in the desert. Ellis and Goat Man are probably as close as Ellis is to any member of his "family," but when Ellis reaches school, Goat Man has trouble contacting him (seeing as the mailman knows Goat Man is sending him weed), and their relationship becomes strained. Meanwhile, Ellis fights with his new roommate, Barney (Nicholas Lobue), a layabout who wants to get into Yale without doing the work and has a strained relationship with his own family.
Sometimes, I'll tell someone about a movie I watched, and they'll tell me they didn't like it because they found the characters unlikable. Personally, just because I wouldn't like someone in real life doesn't mean I won't accept them on screen, because the movie may be playing up the character's obnoxiousness for comic effect, or it just may not matter to me whether or not the characters are good people. Goats is a movie that broke me. Ellis is angry at everyone for decent reasons, but the movie makes all of them seem selfish. His mother won't talk to him the way he wants to, so he stops returning her calls. He yells at his father over Thanksgiving dinner for not being there for him, and when his future stepmother (Keri Russell, in one of the movie's few likable roles) reassures Ellis how much his father cares for him, he hardly seems remorseful and never apologizes. After being bitter for a whole semester, he discovers why Goat Man's packages haven't been getting to him, and still treats Goat Man like crap when they go on another hike together a day later.
Obnoxiousness is hardly restricted to Ellis. Wendy gets involved with a new boyfriend, Bennet (Justin Kirk), who thinks of Goat Man more like "the help" than a gardener, cheats on Wendy, refuses to open the lines of communication between Ellis and his mother, and is never, ever relevant to the plot. Next door to Ellis' house, there's a girl named Aubrey who throws rocks at him (Adelaide Kane) and accuses him of being a pervert. She sleeps with Goat Man for no reason and then disappears from the movie. She is introduced in Ellis' voice-over: "at the risk of sounding misogynist, she's kind of a rancid bitch," which is funny, because the only other major female characters in the movie are Aubrey, a girl at Ellis' school who is accused of being a hooker (Dakota Johnson), and Wendy, who is never less than an awful, neurotic basket case. I have to believe that it's Russell's work that makes Ellis' stepmom seem kind and understanding.
To top off the Goats experience, once the movie's stocked up on irritating characters, it really has no cohesive or interesting story to tell about any of them. Although Ellis leaving appears to throw much of his family into turmoil, there's no actual conflict here other than the absence of harmony. I guess it's not surprising, then, that the problem seems to resolve itself for no other reason than the film being almost over. People who acted irrationally suddenly start getting it together. Rifts are repaired by a letter or a comment when those same things didn't work an hour earlier, mostly because all the characters were being stubborn and resentful. Burrell invests the movie's final minutes with a few light notes, but they're totally unearned.
The Video and Audio
A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track lends a nice vibrance to the movie's music and desert atmosphere. The twang of the guitar strings, the wind in the open vistas, and of course, the goats all sound very nice in high-def. As with so many titles I seem to review, Goats isn't too dynamic when it comes to audio, so the track doesn't need to do much, but it sounds the way it should, with some nice directional effects provided by passing cars, or maybe Vera Farmiga doing primal scream therapy with Minnie Driver. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
"Moments: The Making of Goats" (10:37. HD) is a kinda nice, kinda pretentious fly-on-the-wall making-of that's into the atmosphere and "moments" on set -- nothing particularly significant.
"Mailman's Lament" (2:29) is a bizarre little audio clip about mail delivery, which plays over a still from the film. Finally, "Home Movies" (2:50) is not home video of the film being shot, but more home video footage of the characters, as glimpsed in the film's credits. If you've ever wanted to see almost three silent minutes of "old-timey" footage of a bearded David Duchovny and Vera Farmiga holding a baby in front of an old truck, here's your chance.
An original theatrical trailer (2:15, HD) for Goats is also included.