Goat is not a movie about people. It’s a movie about shock value. “Shocking” sequences are shown of freshman getting physically, emotionally and even sexually abused in hazing practices. Since none of the characters, save from one, are developed or distinguished in any kind of way, these “shocking” sequences have absolutely no impact. It uses slick cinematography and a constantly brooding protagonist as some kind of cheap parlor trick to cover up the fact that it is an utterly hollow experience. This is the best example of “cinematic posturing” in recent memory.
The movie opens with a pair of brothers, Brett (Ben Schnetzer) and Brad (Nick Jonas!!!!). Brad is a member of the fraternity that Brett will be rushing this upcoming fall semester, and Brad really wants him to be a brother. That’s about all the relationship building you get from these characters whose literal and collegiate brotherhood is supposed to anchor the entire picture. Brad is a handsome, confident and completely uninteresting guy who always seems to score with the three dozen Victoria’s Secret models that inexplicably attend this small Midwestern college. Brett is more sensitive and overly passive. He doesn’t know how to stand up for himself. This is lazily demonstrated by having him submit to a beating and robbery by two muggers in the first ten minutes of the film. I guess that’s why he needs to prove himself a “man” during this hazing ritual. Multiple times throughout the movie he sadly looks at a selfie he took the night of the mugging of his bruised up face trying to figure out who he is. How deep.
When the hazing starts, we are introduced to a couple of frat brother clichés. One walks around the party eating a can of tuna fish. Only someone completely comfortable with themselves eats at a party, he must be the alpha. Another is the rich preppy guy who is always the first to yell in your face but lies on the ground crying when he gets lightly tapped. In the grand ironic tradition of frat hazing, it’s both completely homophobic and electrically homoerotic at the same time. The frat brothers stick bananas encased in condoms in the mouths of blind-folded pledges and instruct those “faggots” to “suck their dicks.” Maybe Goat would have worked better if it had been a satire on pledging. It would have at least been less disgusting than being pressured into shedding a tear for a couple of privileged white dudes who chose to be there.
There’s a scene towards the middle of the hazing where Brett and the boys successfully drain a keg of beer after being covered in chocolate pudding and urinated on. After ringing a cowbell to signal a success, the brothers celebrate with the pledges at a bon fire. Covered in chocolate pudding and looking sinister, Brett slowly walks over to his brothers as the fire illuminates his face. The shot is a direct rip-off of Apocalypse Now. The fact they are comparing Brett’s mission to be in a frat to Martin Sheen’s mission to kill Colonel Kurtz is the only indication Goat might actually be a comedy.
The only truly redeeming quality of Goat is the lead performance by Ben Schnetzer. As much as I loathed the character, I never loathed Schnetzer. He almost succeeds in selling his garbage character. Schnetzer is a magnetic and powerful talent that manages to impress even in the most hostile of conditions, like being in a piece of shit like Goat. In fact, the majority of the cast with the exception of Jonas are all pretty solid. As much as I want to bite my own foot off for saying this, James Franco has a good cameo. He plays a former frat bro who stops by the house from time to time to relive his “glory” days and escape from his wife and baby. In a completely unsubtle but effective way of displaying this character hates himself, the writers have Franco rip off his shirt and scream at a pledge to hit him.
I think the real tragedy of Goat is the fact that it’s competently put together by someone who very clearly knows how to make a movie. It’s co-written by the wonderful David Gordon Green and the cinematography is gorgeous. It’s just lazy. It’s clear its main purpose is to shock audiences with ridiculously cruel hazing methods. It’s not interested in any kind of human element or mining any deep truths on why we put ourselves through hell in order to be popular or well liked. Goat isn’t a movie, it’s a compilation of outrageous YouTube videos in sheep’s clothing. Grade: D
Available to Rent on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, go nuts!