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Dec 20 2016

New on DVD: Goat

By Sean Donovan

Goathas an important discrepancy between its advertising and the final film we end up watching.The poster,released just before the film's 2016 Sundance in-competition premiere,specifies a clear focal point and it is male nipples.A man's tight nipples exposed as other clothed men gather around him pouring liquor down his chest.Any hunch as to what sizable market populationGoatis trying to advertise to?If you need more clues,how about the fact that this film was produced by queer cinema legend Christine Vachon,features the star ofPrideBen Schnetzer,and the straight male pop star Nick Jonas (confusingly labeled a gay icon by Out Magazine),and the man who wants to be gay icon so much it hurts,James Franco,in a dual role as producer/supporting actor?No more clues needed:Goatis hunting for THE GAYS.

The opening credits more or less bear out the promise of this advertising,set as they are to a slow-motion montage of bouncing shirtless men.Yet the resulting film is a very dark,gritty experience,lacking even the typical scenes of sexualized rowdy excess that one usually finds in films about fraternity bros...

Goatquickly reveals itself to be a dour,negative little film,and it stays in that tone for the rest of its running time,as freshman Brad (Schnetzer) pledges with a notorious fraternity and goes through its grueling,inhumane hazing practices while his brother Brett (Jonas),a senior member,watches on conflicted.Goatis a film heavy on substances: vomit,mud,fecal material both animal and human,too much alcohol,and all of it shot in wearying shaky cam.

Not every cast member got the memo on the film's tone,and they stand out like sore thumbs as a result,particularly Franco,far over-playing as an obnoxious frat alumnus,and Jake Picking,who was fine as a sketch comedy exaggeration of frat masculinity inDirty Grandpa,but a little absurd playing a ‘realistic' version of the same here.

I'm conflicted overGoat's queer-baiting false advertising.On the one hand,as a queer man,I feel tricked to be tempted with homoerotic subtext where one decidedly does not exist.But on the other,I appreciate the film's ethics in refusing to eroticize something that is quite simply abuse.Rather than lightly painting over or de-emphasizing the brutalities of power that exist in hazing culture,Goatinsists on depicting the full pain,which is admirable.But even this strength has an undercurrent of failure.It's good to have more films that deal critically with masculinity,butGoat's total lack of female characters,especially when sexual abuse in Greek Life on American campuses is such a pressing topic,limits the film scope a little too severely.The fraternity feels a little too isolated,incurring damage only upon its own members and eager pledges.The reality is this level of toxic masculinity absolutely does do damage beyond the borders of its own membership,and it's a complication of the material that would have enhancedGoatacross the board.

This claustrophobia ofGoat's selective worldview boils down a lot of the film's efficacy to its two central performances,an unfair dichotomy if there ever was one.Jonas fails his film on a deeper level than perhaps any other performer this year: a bland nothingness who seems exist in his own plastic bubble.His emotions seem static,as does his physical appearance: Jonas stays photo-shoot ready throughout the entire film,despite his characters supposed crisis of loyalties,while the other cast members get saddled with various gross substances all over their bodies.Assumedly Jonas' management took one look at the fake vomit bucket and said "HELL NO!"

It's a shame,because Ben Schnetzer is doing beautiful work,in one of the best lead male performances of the year.One ofGoat's surprises is it's not just a fraternity horror show,it's also a story of deep-seated trauma.The film begins with Schnetzer's Brad in a brutal carjacking (a violent,terrifyingly effective sequence) that leaves him feeling weak and powerless.The macho ritual humiliations of the fraternity become Brad's way of trying to prove his own inner strength against his trauma.In a strange way,the precision and clarity of Schnetzer's work elevates the film to worthy association with a more topical awards season film,Paul Verhoeven'sElle.Even thoughGoatdoesn't star Isabelle Huppert (oooh remake!),Elle's Michele andGoat's Brad both reenact their past traumas as a way of proving their own strength and capability.It's a glimmer of interest in an otherwise middling Sundance also-ran.

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Reader Comments (8)

Oooh,that comparison to Elle is fascinating.It won't make me watch this film,but this is a really well-written review.

December 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

James Franco ruins everything.

December 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBiggs

Ditto on the comparison to Elle...really interesting perspective on Michele's motives and psychology.

December 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSoSue

The film was sold a soft core gay porn

December 20,2016 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

I read Brad Land's memoir,and I feel bad for saying this - but it was honestly one of the worst written things I've ever read.If the film is coherent,it exceeds at something the novel didn't.

December 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterBrittani

When I saw the poster I thought it was a boxing movie,not a movie about hazing.

December 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

Stop making Nick Jonas happen.He can't act for shit.

December 20,2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

This film needing something extra - like an actual engagement with the gay erotic imagery that it's selling itself on - because without it,it's just an ugly film about terrible people offering up obvious thoughts Like,gee,you think fraternities are bad?Duh.Gimme something new,there.

December 21,2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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