In the first few minutes of Taylor Guterson's "Old Goats," writer-director Taylor Guterson's debut feature has the appearance of a documentary, mainly because the matching of the scenario and the tone are so unfamiliar in narrative cinema. With an upbeat soundtrack to set the mood, Guterson shows an elderly man discussing his sailing plans to a roomful to peers. Another man only slightly younger begins the narrate the story. The vibe is light and playful. Here's the disconnect: Scripted American movies usually require young faces to please the requisite financiers. "Old Goats" has none of those faces, but it still adopts the familiar mold of a contemporary bromance, which at first has an admittedly jarring effect. Nevertheless, Guterson has crafted an entirely solid, witty and poignant look at the impact of the aging process on three men in desperate search of self-improvement.
His leads live in a quiet part of the Seattle area, where they regularly gather for drinks at the local pub. Bob (Bob Burkholder) impresses his colleagues with dubious tales of adventures dating back to his service in World War II. David (David Vander Wal), the narrator and youngest of the trio, retired six months earlier and hasn't fully adjusted to his free time. Their awkward, soft-spoken pal Britt (Britton Crosley) has been prepping to leave town on the aforementioned majestic boat trip using the grimy yacht each he calls home. On the day he's scheduled to leave town, however, he gets cold feet and decides to stay put. While Bob urges Britt to adopt his hustler ways, David takes him under his wing as a retiree-in-arms, much to the chagrin of David's stern wife, who wants them to resettle in Palm Springs. When Britt expresses interest in finding romantic company, a comedy of errors ensues.
As these three men go about their business, "Old Goats" drifts from scene to scene with a gentle reverence for its leads. The actors are not professionals, and their yearning to keep their lives interesting feels genuine. While scripted, the movie has a directionless, occasionally messy design dominated by rambling monologues and off-the-cuff dialogue. Guterson adopts a restrained mood with flashes of deadpan humor. When David tries teaching Britt how to use the Internet, their banter takes on the form of a classic comedy routine. "Is the Internet in the computer?" Britt asks. "No, it's out there," David says, gesturing to the sky. "Oh," Britt responds. "You mean like God's out there?"
With its blend of good-natured jabs at life experience and the underlying human drama that drives it, "Old Goats" has plenty of appeal if viewed in terms of what it apparently aspires to be--Mike Leigh's "Another Year" on a microbudget. The script suffers from pacing problems and Gutterson's direction displays the unevenness of a first-timer figuring out what to do behind the camera, but that's secondary to the fundamental honesty of the story. Even the performances, which have an oddly stilted quality, occasionally transcend accusations of amateurishness and achieve a fascinating level of naturalism.
More than anything else, "Old Goats" stands out for its complete lack of younger characters (the narrator is in his mid-sixties). Virtually all modern American movies featuring elderly characters include other figures at earlier stages of their lives to provide a point of comparison. "Old Goats" places its protagonists front and center the whole way through. The final credits point out that the three lead actors' names are identical to those of their characters. That realization leaves open the possibility that "Old Goats" might be more of a documentary than implied by its fictional qualities.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Too small and uncommercial for much of a release, "Old Goats" should enjoy a decent reception at regional festivals, while Guterson announces himself as a talent to watch.
criticWIRE grade: A-
"Old Goats" premiered last week at the Seattle International Film Festival.