Idle unemployment, carnal gallivanting, existential malaise; this is subject matter normally reserved for films about wayward twentysomethings, but in Taylor Guterson’s directorial debut, Old Goats, three geriatric chums (Britt Crossley, Bob Burkholder, and David Vanderwal, each playing fictionalized versions of themselves) exhibit all the unchecked egoism of their millennial counterparts. The silly setup—old timers exhibiting the behavior of men young enough to be their grandchildren—seems predestined for corniness, a la Last Vegas, but between Guterson’s tender approach and the three leads’ candid performances, the film remains likeable throughout, offering thoughtful, if familiar, comments on friendship, self-doubt, and romantic angst.
Shot in a pseudo-documentary fashion, the film is very loosely assembled, the story unfolding amid a series of vignettes driven by various farcical scenarios. Forays into online dating, the inner politics of dinner clubs, and stagnant marriages are just a few of the topics mined for humor, often in the same absurd tone as a Christopher Guest film, though Guterson never subjects his characters to ridicule. Even when they’re seemingly at their most pathetic, like when Britt fumbles with leaving a voicemail for a potential date, the comedy doesn’t derive from age-induced inefficiencies and dimwittedness, but the bewilderment that arises when life’s most trivial neuroses follow us from adolescence to senior citizenry. Finding little to enjoy about the supposed fruits of retirement, the men occupy themselves with golf, cocktail parties, and duck hunting as a means of distraction—much in the way people not even close to half their age distract themselves with sex, drugs, and the Internet to similarly diminished returns. In Old Goats, life is presented as an endless loop, an ironic Homeric quest to fill the tedium of life with girls and hobbies.
These observations, though not exactly revelatory, are handled with grace and smarts by Guterson, who’s so fine-tuned with the essence of his characters that when the inexorableness of death, old age’s most inevitable dilemma, enters the fray, it isn’t treated as sitcom-catastrophic, but symptomatic of a certain age. That isn’t to say Old Goats suddenly turns dour (witnessing the end of life is surmised with one of the film’s better punchlines), but the film respects old age and its connection to death, so much so that the frivolity of performance anxiety and computer illiteracy are contextualized in a new, bittersweet light. Suddenly, pursuits taken by the characters—Bob and his memoir, Britt and his dating—seem less pathetic and grow to resemble cathartic undertakings, the sort pursued by people of all ages, colors, and creeds.