On Tuesday, September 24, 2012 I attended the gala World Premiere of Goats
at the Sundance Film Festival. The sold-out screening was held in the1270-seat Eccles Theatre. The film was a selection in the Premieres section.
Generally, the terms "epic" and "coming of age" are mutually exclusive in cinema. That tried and true genre, particularly at film festivals, usually describes a simple, low budget indie with a classic story. Only the names, pretty faces, and hit-filled soundtrack are changed. But Christopher Neil's adroit directorial debut Goats
turns that assumption on its head. This multi-layered narrative goes well beyond the formula perfected by John Hughes in the 1980s. Adapting from his own novel, Mark Jude Poirier's literate script is expansive enough to appeal to every possible audience. Part road movie, part prep school drama, part sex comedy (more adult than teen), Goats
defies convention by blurring the lines between genres and challenging the notion of what the typical coming of age story needs to be. The film surprises at every turn.
Graham Phillips stars as 15-year-old Ellis, who's struggling to grow just as the adults around him are devolving into immaturity. That loopy group centers around David Duchovny as "Goat Man," an aging stoner who tends to the family garden of both edible as well as smokable substances. He's more at home with the quirky animals that are his namesake, and helped raise Ellis with that same appreciation. Mother Wendy (Vera Farmiga) tackles every New Age spiritual fad that comes along in her quest for enlightenment. Enter Justin Kirk as her smarmy boyfriend Bennet, in a balls-out performance (literally) that provides a good deal of the film's comic relief. Also excellent in support is Ty Burrell as Ellis' father Frank, who left town long ago for a new life in D.C. He grounds the film in a semblance of gravitas even as his ability to parent is constantly called into question.
With the presence of A-list names like David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Justin Kirk, and Ty Burrell, one might expect the movie to be a true ensemble piece. But the reality is that Goats
is, more than anything, a star-making vehicle for young Graham Phillips. Despite his youth -- he was 17 at the time Goats
was shot -- he's an industry veteran. As Zach Florrick in 40 episodes over three seasons of CBS' award-winning drama The Good Wife
, Phillips earned SAG Award nominations for Best Ensemble three years in a row. He has also taken the Broadway stage, demonstrating his triple threat talents in the musical 13
. But his previous big screen experience has been limited to relatively small roles in four films, most notably as one of Steve Carrell's three sons in the 2007 hit comedy Evan Almighty
This is Phillips' first lead role, yet even that description belies his importance here. Make no mistake about it -- the essence of Goats
is Ellis' journey, and the unselfishness of the talented professionals around him enables Phillips to shine. To say that he carries the film would be an understatement, and that owes as much to the sharp eye of director Neil and the generosity of the polished cast as to the talents of young Phillips himself. For its fresh, surprisingly unique take on a timeless theme, Goats
earns a place on my 2012 Sundance Film Festival Top 10
Director Christopher Neil was joined onstage after the screening by stars Graham Phillips, David Duchovny, Vera Farmiga, Ty Burrell, Dakota Johnson, Anthony Anderson, and Adelaide Kane.
Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A:
GALLERY (49 photos on 3 pages)
NOTE: It is my policy is to keep all my reviews as spoiler-free as possible. For a more detailed synopsis of the film see the Sundance official page