Film Review: Old Goats

Low-key, low-budget gem about three Seattle-area retirees eschews the cute ’n’ twinkly lens of Hollywood comedies, yet shows that no matter how old a guy may get, the bro code never dies.

One might be forgiven—and one hopes one will be—for experiencing trepidation at the thought of a first-time feature filmmaker in the Pacific Northwest making a comedy-drama starring non-actors. As hugely…adventurous, shall we say, as that sounds, writer-director-producer-editor-cinematographer Taylor Guterson and his cast pull off a thoroughly wry, well-observed, heartfelt and honest ode to that most eternal of truths: Boys will be boys, no matter how old. It's Last Vegas done right.

The picaresque plot revolves around three retirees in an unidentified Washington State harbor town. (The movie was shot on Guterson's native Bainbridge Island, a Seattle suburb in the Puget Sound.) David VanderWal plays David VanderWal, a well-to-do former finance professional who drives a high-end sports car and is married to a dyspeptic silver fox named Crystal (Gail Shackel)—who didn't picture a retirement involving her husband making friends with down-market fellow seniors Bob Burkholder (Bob Burkholder), an elfin former bush pilot and big-game hunter who remains an improbable ladies' man, and Britt Crosley (Britton Crosley), a sad-sack former auto mechanic who's lived contentedly on his barnacle-encrusted boat for nearly 30 years and last had sex on July 4, 1976.

Through new acquaintance Bob—whom Dave's been driving around to get himself out of the house and Crystal's constant cocktail-party planning as much as anything—Dave discovers a weekly gathering of old boys every Monday night at eight after Corey's Café closes. He'd gone past the place a thousand times, but had no idea about this de facto boys' club, where the seniors—unmarried, no girlfriends—shoot the breeze, play chess or cards and have beers and a fair number of laughs. Dave, of a much different economic class, finds he fits right in as comfortably as an old shoe, so to speak.

A lot happens, but not much. Britt gets a cellphone and a computer and ventures into online dating, Bob's writing his memoirs (with photos of the real-life Burkholder's apparently quite adventurous life and female conquests), and Dave tries to avoid going to stuffy Palm Springs for an extended vacation with his wife, preferring the no-pressure company of his new friends. The sharp-tongued Bob regales him, and the socially withdrawn Britt needs his and Bob's help.

What makes the film work as a blue-collar comedy of manners are its distinct personalities behaving perfectly in character without contrivance, coupled with a documentarian tone that eschews sentimental whimsy and finds humor and sometimes drama in the day-to-day hopes, desires and dreams that dog and propel us even in the 70s and 80s. Watching Britt getting ready for a date, shaving as carefully and examining his face as anxiously as a teenager, or Bob calling to explain he can't get the truck back when he said he would because (though he doesn't use these words), "Dude! I got laid last night!" is both life-affirming and frightening: No matter how old we are, we're always in the present, and the older you get, the less of it you have left.

Guterson–son of Snow Fallings on Cedars novelist Dave Guterson—wisely makes Dave the voice of the movie, both literally, as narration in key spots, and figuratively, as the outsider looking in. VanderWal has a low-key, almost monotone delivery that's the vocal equivalent of Buster Keaton's Great Stone Face—lending hilarity to otherwise dry lines like "It's very freeing," about golf (which he makes seem anything but), or, when at a loss how to advise Britt on sex, his matter-of-fact suggestion, "Have you tried one of the Internet search engines to see if you can take a peek online at some of the pornography that's available?"

The filmmaker keeps things sparking as well with little verbal and visual grace notes, like Dave's bemusement over such as a thing as a "men's oatmeal club" and Britt walking into a house with a bird cage and then seeing that the bird is ceramic. The very funny opening scene has Britt telling his fellow seniors all about his meticulous planning to supposedly cruise his boat to Hawaii, counterpointed with images of his less-than-meticulous preparations.

Completed in 2010 for what Guterson—a principal in a corporate/events video company, Elliott Bay Productions—says was less than $5,000, Old Goats took a couple of years to find steam on the festival circuit and has since played a theatre here and there before making its current New York City and Chicago debut. It doesn't view old age with the cute ’n' twinkly lens of Hollywood comedies, nor is it Nebraska, let's say. It's a little gem of modest lives and, in its own way, bros before hos.