Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Why Stop Now and Goats, two offbeat comedies about young men coping with their charmingly dysfunctional families.
PremiseIn Why Stop Now, Jesse Eisenberg plays an awkward but compassionate college student trying to get his drug-addicted mother (Melissa Leo) into rehab. By way of a counterintuitive quirk in the healthcare system, this means that he has to get Mom high enough to qualify for detox. When her dealer (Tracy Morgan) turns out to be out of the stuff, he and his mother find themselves on a chaotic, day-long escapade across town to help him stock up—all with a very important musical audition in the mix. Goats sees newcomer Graham Phillips come of age in another uniquely dysfunctional family set-up, torn between the free-spirited, Woodstock-nostalgic mother who raised him (Vera Farmiga) and the white-bread, prep school-groomed father who abandoned him as a child (Ty Burrell). It’s a compelling conflict—it’s definitely not as novel as Eisenberg’s predicament in Why Stop Now, but it may have more emotional interest.Advantage: Tie
Leading MenWhy Stop Now finds Eisenberg playing just the type of kid you’d expect him to: socially impaired, quietly talented, and slightly acerbic—only here, he’s more sympathetic than he was as a callous and anti-social savant in The Social Network. The tenderness and sense of humor he shows in the trailer make us think this role is a nice maturation for him as an actor. We can’t really say how Goats fits into Phillips’s career, but his performance seems charming enough. He’s got the sideways or otherwise subdued expressions down pat, but we don’t see much more than the boyishly handsome and sensitive, indie-movie neighbor-boy archetype in him—it’s appealing in its own right, but it doesn’t quite measure up against Eisenberg’s idiosyncrasies.Advantage: Why Stop Now
ComedyWhy Stop Now is a comedy through and through, but its big-laugh moments feel a little crude. Between the language-barrier skirmishes and Leo’s embarrassing interruptions during her son’s piano performance, the bulk of its comedy seems to come from a sort of situational slapstick. The humor in Goats is relatively understated, but its restraint feels realistic and all the more relatable. When Phillips’s stepfather-figure, Goat Man, naïvely asks whether two-dozen stamps are enough for his letter, or when his mother anxiously wonders, “I should really just be mainstream?” the subtle absurdities of everyday life—without any extraordinary twists or interventions—shine through.Advantage: Goats
Art DirectionThere isn’t much art direction to be analyzed in the trailer for Why Stop Now. It’s got all the standard adventure-comedy styling going for it: swerve-y, handheld camerawork; bold, basic colors; and conspicuously “everyday” set design—nothing especially artistic at work. Goats is stylized, its every shot carefully composed and colored to develop mood and tone (those scenes in the desert are absolutely gorgeous). It’s a pretty picture, which is important when you’ll be staring at it for 90 minutes.Advantage: Goats
Crazy ParentsBoth protagonists’ have single parents with personality to spare. In Why Stop Now, Leo’s performance as a strung-out mother of two seems oddly endearing; she’s irresponsible, but she comes off as entertaining, loving, and ultimately, loveable. Meanwhile, Farmiga’s role in Goats feels like a tired caricature of a ‘70s hippie trying to be a parent in 2012. They both deserve our pity, but at moments, Farmiga’s character just looks pitiful.Advantage: Why Stop Now
Unexpected Role ModelsIt’s not immediately clear that Morgan’s character will become a role model to the boy whose mother he supplies, but the end of the trailer for suggests that he might actually have some pretty sage advice for the young man with an impending music-school audition—namely, “You gotta fight for what you love. Don’t ever lie down, not even once. If you do, you’ll never get back up.” If his wisdom sounds a little trite, it’s nothing compared to Goat Man’s, which is downright cliché: as Phillips relates it, “Goat Man says it’s the journey that counts.” A bearded old mountain man makes for a pretty obvious mentor; it’s a shame he can’t give better life advice than a drug dealer.Advantage: Why Stop Now
The VerdictWe were very torn about this face-off, but having fully reasoned it out, we’re confident that Why Stop Now deserves the win. Goats looks as thoroughly satisfying as any other film in its genre, but it also feels a bit too much like any other film in its genre. Why Stop Now isn’t quite so confined, and should deliver characters as sympathetic as they are hilarious. (With a cast like that, how could it not?)Winner: Why Stop Now
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