Even at the tender age of 15, Ellis (Graham Phillips) is the most even-keeled person he knows. Mom (Vera Farmiga) is a New-Age narcissist who struggles to get out of bed, let alone stray beyond the confines of her Tucson compound. Ellis hasn’t seen his estranged father, whom his mother refers to as Fucker Frank (Ty Burrell), in years. The closest thing to stability in the lad’s life is the hippie hanger-on Javier, a.k.a. Goat Man (David Duchovny), a ZZ Top–bearded ’60s throwback who harvests weed in the garden and brings the boy along on epic scenic treks with two misbehaved goats. All of which makes the teen’s relocation to an East Coast prep school pretty tame by comparison—depressed roommate and dearth of pot dealers notwithstanding.
Though it’s hard to summon sympathy for yet another of cinema’s privileged private-school boys, credit first-time director Christopher Neil (and screenwriter Mark Poirier, adapting his own novel) for never exaggerating his protagonist’s plight or resorting to grow-up-or-die histrionics. While such restraint robs the film of any purposeful thrust, its ambling pace and Ellis’s academic successes allows for a more fine-grained exploration of the adults that fail him. Farmiga persuades as a kooky monster of a matriarch, while Javier is an ideal vessel for Duchovny’s laconic line readings (he’s grown into an even more deadpan Bill Murray). Goats may cover an all-too-familiar terrain, but at least it grazes it well.
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