David Duchovny plays a longhaired, bearded Arizona stoner who likes to go hiking with the titular animals in Goats, the directorial debut of Coppola-in-law Christopher Neil. Duchovny’s character, sometimes known as Goat Man, was the closest thing the film’s 15-year-old protagonist Graham Phillips had to a father figure while growing up in hippie-dippy Tucson with his childish, trust-funded divorcée mom (Vera Farmiga). It’s a strange stunt of a role for Duchovny, who even when playing characters indulging in sex, drugs, or conspiracy theories, has the air of a savvy urbanite, a quality he can’t submerge while trying to act as a perpetually high mystic.
Duchovny’s character, who lives in the family’s pool house, is the most aggressively quirky aspect of a generally quirky coming-of-age tale that sends Phillips off to the traditional all-boys East Coast boarding school his estranged father attended. Adapted by Mark Poirier from his own novel, Goats struggles to establish the status quo of its hero’s odd home life—he had to learn to pay the bills and be responsible while his mother indulged in New Age fads—before quickly sending him off to the foreign territory of the fictional Gates Academy. Phillips struggles gamely, but can’t find any notable qualities in his bland character, whose apparent ability to be good at everything makes the film’s frowning over his marijuana use seem like an overreaction.
Farmiga is good at playing a woman who’s learned how to turn everything around so it’s about herself, even (especially) other people’s problems, though her eventual reconciliation with her fed-up son seems forced and hurried. She’s more convincing at acting the flake than Duchovny, whose deadpan affect seems even flatter when he’s playing high. While Phillips struggles with feelings of rejection and neglect when he doesn’t hear from Duchovny or get his promised pot delivery, he starts to come around to the fact that his father (Ty Burrell), who gets back in touch with him, might not be the monster his mother made him out to be after all. But Goats’ solid cast (Justin Kirk and Keri Russell also make appearances) can’t make the film feel like anything more than a meander through the familiar-feeling angst of a privileged teenager. The film is as amiably half-hearted as a hike through the desert with a giant bag of weed.