‘Old Goats’ a low-key, mild senior-citizen blend of fact and fiction

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old goats posterOld Goats

Directed by Taylor Guterson

Written by Taylor Guterson

USA, 2011

There is a subtle but very important difference between a movie like Hope Springs, in which Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones attempt to play “normal” people (and do so fairly well), and Old Goats, a new independent film about three Washington men trying to age gracefully well past their senior-citizen status, is an achievement of reality. The characters in Hope Springs walk through a Hollywood fantasy of what a small town is, of the shops and hotels and more, while Old Goats never once steps into the world of the unreal. Though it’s perhaps too low-stakes, Old Goats is an appropriately realistic film.

Britt Crosley, Bob Burkholder, and David VanderWal all play themselves, though slightly fictionalized for the purpose of the script by director Taylor Guterson. Britt, a recently retired mechanic who lives on a small boat and has done so for 30 years, becomes something of a pet project for Bob and David, who wind up meeting through some of the various senior activities they take part in. Soon, they try to get Britt a girlfriend simply to raise him from his troubling, complacent state.

old-goats

Old Goats is nothing if not light, rarely attempting to go below the surface. (A wisp of a subplot hinting at marital strife between David and his wife doesn’t go anywhere, partly because the movie rarely lets us get an elderly female voice in the mix.) Its charms hover around the pleasant, but Guterson’s able to maintain that low-key affability for the film’s 95-minute length. And each of the leads, all first-time actors, are mostly decent onscreen, though every once in a while, a line is delivered just a bit awkwardly, either because of a random pause, or because the editing is a bit slack. Being fair, it’s only noticeable because of everyone’s rookie nature; that considered, the performances are, to varying degrees, solid, if imperfect.

The one strange choice Guterson made is balancing reality and fiction. There are clearly some segments of the film that appear to have been achieved by turning on a camera and sound equipment, and just letting the men, as well as their assorted friends and fellow seniors, talk about anything that comes to mind. Those are, frankly, the most compelling parts of the film: watching these people talk naturally about their lives, even if rarely moves beyond small talk. The experiences these men—especially Bob, who’s in the process of turning his many, macho-like exploits into a memoir throughout the film—have had are sometimes documented through archival photos as well as general reminiscences. Here, Old Goats shines. It doesn’t need to do any heavy lifting to create fascinating footage.

old-goats

When the plot enters in, those sections of the movie focusing more on Britt’s love life and the way Bob and David try to get him more involved in life after leaving his job, it’s not that Old Goats falters. But it begins to feel a bit more like a typical Hollywood movie, losing that sheen of honesty if only slightly. Each man has their charms, Britt as the introvert, Bob as the hustler, and David as the straight man. However, those charms are somewhat diluted when we have to watch Britt’s romance, which at least seems less “real” than those shoot-the-breeze sequences do.

Old Goats is a quiet, almost hypnotically watchable little movie about the foibles of getting old as presented through the prism of a trio of men who actually could be deemed grumpy. Perhaps it would’ve been, on the whole, a bit more successful as a straight documentary, just letting us take a look at the lives of men reaching the end of the line and trying to do so with their chins up, heads held high. What we have is something moderately enjoyable, a labor of love that doesn’t quite hit the mark but proves that sometimes, Hollywood could do well to keep an eye on indie filmmakers to achieve reality more accurately.

Old Goats opens in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area this weekend at the Harkins Shea 14.

— Josh Spiegel

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