Taylor Guterson’s Old Goats is a basic male-bonding movie. All the hallmarks are there. There’s the lothario, Bob. There’s the guy who’s scared of women, Brit. And there’s the boring, point-of-identification fellow in the middle: Dave, a guy with a perhaps-too-comfortable long-term commitment.
The movie does have a couple of gimmicks to liven up the old formula, though. First, the protagonists—Bob Burkholder, Britton Crosley, and David Vander Wal—are each portraying versions of themselves, so the film is supposed to be a semi-documentary. Second, the protagonists are all 65-plus. It’s Animal House, post-retirement.
That’s different from Animal House in college in a number of ways. Rather than broad physical humor for a mainstream audience, Old Goats features quirky, low-key humor for indie filmgoers. The non-professional acting adds a pleasantly scrappy, amateurish feel to the proceedings. Dave in particular has a natural, awkward ease—it’s hard to resist the low-fi grace with which he grins and asserts, “I’ll be darned.” Brit’s almost blank distress as he burns his toast, or Bob’s irascible reaction to almost everything, are also charming in a way that it would be hard for professional actors to duplicate.
So the film gets a lot of mileage out of its protagonists’ clunky charisma. Perhaps too much. At times, the foregrounding of the old guys’ cuteness moves past endearing and toward something that feels disturbingly like condescension. In one scene, for example, a delivery arrives at Bob’s room as he prepares for celebratory sex with his girlfriend. The delivery guy is decisively young, and he waggles his eyebrows and looks generally nonplussed to see the senior-age girlfriend in bed, with Bob walking around shirtless. It’s as if Guterson felt the viewers needed a perspective to identify with, a normative gaze from which to confirm that, yep, old people’s sexuality is adorable and amusing.
Where the male characters are sometimes portrayed as specimens, the women just exacerbate the problem. The male buddy dynamic, here as elsewhere, is built on the incessant privileging of male-male relationships over male-female ones, so the women end up as prizes or obstacles, rather than as people. This is perhaps clearest in Dave’s relationship with his wife Crystal (Gail Shackel), whom he neglects to spend time with Brit and Bob. At one point, he leaves a dinner party to print out dating profiles for Brit. His wife comes upstairs to ask what the hell he’s doing; he lies to her, then starts scrolling through the profiles. His preference for the guys is then presented as infidelity—which viewers are encouraged to participate in, to a large extent. Brit and Bob are fun, after all; Crystal is an uptight shrew with hardly any screen time. It’s clear where the sympathies are supposed to lie.
Similarly, Bob’s girlfriend barely speaks. Brit’s sweetie (Benita Staadecker) has a bit more to do, but even as the two fall in love, she’s figured in large part as a kind of uncomfortable inconvenience, pushing him first for sex, and then to move out of the junk-pit of a boat where he lives. Certainly, there’s never much of a sense of who she is, or even why she’s particularly taken with Brit. Her story isn’t the one we’re meant to care about, and that apathy is directly tied to the fact that she’s a woman, rather than one of the gang.
The semi-documentary format and the cast’s age could have been used to undermine or examine the ways male bonding in films is used to erase or denigrate women. Instead, the twists are simply used to excuse the usual tropes. Crystal’s complaints about the way Dave has started frequenting an all-male club seem like they could be applied to the film as a whole. Even post-retirement, the film seems to say, guys will be guys, and women should go sit somewhere else.