Frumpy Old Men

Taylor Guterson’s quietly likable debut feature, Old Goats, is a very Northwestern film — damp, relaxed, full of the mellow charms of its Bainbridge Island setting and featuring more cups of coffee than you can count. The film showcases three old goats, each wrestling with age in a specific way: Bob (Bob Burkholder), who’s just written a memoir detailing his colorful life and plentiful sexual conquests, can hardly hold still; he’s constantly asking friends for a ride or offering unsolicited advice on their futures. Dave (David VanderWal) has just retired, and while his vision of the rest of his life isn’t exactly precise, it’s certainly at odds with that of his uptight (and thinly written) wife, Crystal (Gail Shackel). 

But Old Goats’ plot, wispy as it is, belongs to Britt (Britton Crosley), who at the film’s start is giving a presentation on the solo sailing trip he’s been planning. After living for 30 years on his cluttered, beloved boat, Britt — who’s never been as far as a neighboring state — plans to strike out across the Pacific. He details his preparations (which include practicing such vital skills as scanning the horizon for debris) in a talk he gives to an oddball, semi-impromptu men’s club that gathers every Monday night. It’s where the three men originally met, and is the setting of some of the film’s most effective scenes. The largely improvised conversations that take place during the weekly gatherings sparkle with a peculiar appeal and a cheerily argumentative honesty. 

But Britt can’t quite bring himself to leave his boat, and his snug, compact life, at least not for the unpredictable open sea. Crosley has a sympathetic, wary face, and his tentative steps into a new part of the world — life after his job; life off his boat; the newfangled wilds of online dating — are thoughtfully presented, with a light sense of humor. Though the production values reflect the film’s tiny budget and the score often seems to belong in a more whimsical film, Old Goats has moments of subtle wisdom and is refreshingly straightforward in its depiction of the lives of older men (the women are mostly present as foils for the men). There are no gimmicky, overwritten characters, no heavily sentimental moments; instead, Guterson lets his actors talk, and their conversational rhythms carry the film. Nothing much happens except that the men, over all those cups of coffee and a few glasses of wine, gently (or not, in Bob’s case) reorder each other’s lives. Old Goats probably won’t knock your socks off, but it’s not really trying to; it’s a quiet testament to the endless potential for change.

OLD GOATS: Written, directed, filmed and edited by Taylor Guterson. Starring Bob Burkholder, Britton Crosley, David VanderWal, Gail Shackel and Benita Staadecker. ShadowCatcher Entertainment, 2012. Not rated. 91 minutes. Three stars.