After being the victim of an assault, Brad (Ben Schnetzer) struggles with his idea of masculinity while enduring hazing at a college fraternity.
Goat is a film that has something important to say. It has all of the components of a typical frat movie, but rather than indulge in the hedonism, violence and sexism we usually see in college movies, Goat presents these elements in a harsh, critical light. It deconstructs what it means to be a man in America, and by extension, all western cultures with ingrained gender stereotypes. The hazing Brad and others endure is harrowing, and at times criminal. It strips away the fun and mischief we normally see and presents these activities as dangerous and possibly traumatising examples of how far a mob mentality, and a desire for supremacy and power can take people.
The message is important. It shows us that masculinity can be a prison. Brad is forced to endure the physical and mental punishment of hazing, to avoid being perceived as weak. He is blamed for not fighting back when he was assaulted. And the men in the film only show emotion when extremely intoxicated, which everyone else finds awkward and embarrassing. This happens with both Brad and Chance (Gus Halper), and in both instances one can’t help but feel incredibly sympathetic for these boys, who can only be honest with people when they’re blind drunk.
So, the message is important, and it’s well communicated. But how is the film itself? It’s quiet. For a film that is so aggressive, so violent and uncomfortable to watch, it is quiet, and reflective. The camera work is a little bit stilted. It has a handheld feel that’s a touch too obvious at times, kind of like we’re watching a conversation being filmed for a documentary. In a way, this fits in with the themes of the film. The notion that this could all be real, and probably has been real for some American freshman pledging to a fraternity, sinks in because of the quiet and the camera work. But still, it’s too much at times and occasionally feels slightly ‘self-important-student-film-ish’.
With a film like this, that’s all long takes and quiet moments, the performances can make or break it. For the most part, the performances in Goat are excellent. Ben Schnetzer does a great job of presenting like a guy who wants to be in a frat but seeming like a guy who’s in way over his head. Gus Halper was perfect casting for the frat’s ring leader, who is a major instigator of the abuse, but is still somewhat sympathetic. Halper also has a face that exemplifies the duality of his character. From straight on, he looks clean cut and friendly, but from a downward angle, he’s sharp and menacing. James Franco makes a small cameo as the older, former frat brother, who is a dark warning about who all of these boys could become, and Nick Jonas is kind of just there.
All in all, Goat is nothing flashy. It’s quiet and observant, the visuals are solid, with good performances. What makes Goat worth watching is the relevant social commentary and the ugly truth about the pressures and expectations society places on young men.
Nick Jonas cited in a interview that some of his inspiration for how he approached the film was through one wild drunken night he had in Bowling Green, OH (home of Bowling Green State University) after a solo performance at BGSU’s Stroh Center.