Sundance 2012 review of Goats - Vera Farmiga stumbles at comedy in disappointing 'Goats'
It's a letdown really, watching the incredibly talented Vera Farmiga try her hand at comedy; playing a clownish hippie, Earth Mother type and failing miserably in director Christopher Neil's adaptation of Mark Jude Poirier's comic novel Goats. Neil aims for an oddball family comedy in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine but ends up with something far more forgettable. Farmiga deserves much of the blame flitting about her sprawling desert home and letting loose primal screams when she's not practicing yoga. Still, it's impossible to criticize Farmiga too harshly after thinking about her standout performances in dramatic movies like Higher Ground, Up in the Air, Source Code and her career- making Down to the Bone. Comedy is clearly not Farmiga's strength.
Still, when it comes to Goats, making its debut in the Premieres section of the Sundance Film Festival, there's plenty of blame to go around.
Teenager Ellis Whitman (Graham Phillips) lives with his hippie mother Wendy (Farmiga) and her handyman and landscaper nicknamed "Goat Man" (David Duchovny) who lives in the pool house caring his goats and harvesting his marijuana crop.
Growing up on his mother's sprawling desert home outside Tucson includes bong hits and lazy days at the pool but Ellis leaves his laidback life to enroll in the Gates Academy, the East Coast prep school his estranged father (Ty Burrell) attended as a teen.
Of course, the joke in Goats is that the teenager Ellis is the most grounded adult in the movie and the drama revolves around his new experiences at prep school and the steady realization that "Goat Man"
is not the substitute father he wants him to be.
Graham Phillips is likable as Ellis, the teenager more grounded than all the adults around him but fails to grab hold our interest and make his character matter.
David Duchovny may not claim the profile he enjoyed during his run on The X-Files but he's doing the most interesting work of his career on the Showtime series Californication as the conflicted screenwriter Hank Moody.
Duchovny looks dead on as "Goat Man" with his Jerry Garcia-inspired thick beard and long hair. Still, Duchovny fails to spark the movie to life.
Ty Burrell (Modern Family) is cellophane to the point you don't even remember his scenes in the movie as Ellis' father.
Farmiga is clearly the comic linchpin of the movie and she fails each time she's expected to jolt the movie to life.
Neil, who's polished his filmmaking skills working with alongside his uncle Francis Ford Coppola and his cousins Sofia Coppola and Roman Coppola, shows plenty of technical talent for making movies. To the credit of Neil and cameraman Wyatt Troll, Goats looks great whether in the sun-drenched desert landscape of Wendy's home or Ellis' classic prep school campus.
Poirier adapts his own novel for the screen but Goats never comes off as too precious as if he didn't want to edit any of his material. The movie unfolds at a brisk pace but the characters never come to full life and the comedy never clicks.
Watching Goats is a lesson in the value of signing the right actors the roles and how key casting misstep and can unravel a movie.
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Ty Burrell, Justin Kirk, Keri Russell, David Duchovny. Adelaide Kane, Anthony Anderson and Graham Phillips
Director: Christopher Neil
Producers: Daniel Taplin Lundberg, Shannon Lail
Screenwriter: Mark Jude Poirier, based on his novel of the same name
Cinematographer: Wyatt Troll
Editor: Jeremiah O'Driscoll, Kevin Tent, Craig McKay
Running Time: 100 minutes
Release Date: TBD