Nick Jonas is feeling vulnerable.
The youngest Jonas brother has struggled with the emotional candor that's paramount to songwriting, knowing his lyrics can invite any sort of interpretation his worshipful fan base imparts. Now he's part of a movie that challenges the stereotypical antithesis of vulnerability: masculinity. In "Goat," Jonas is a key player in an exposé about the brutal turns macho aggression can take.
The brooding, weighty "Goat" premiered at the ongoing Sundance Film Festival, where reactions have been generally favorable. Directed by Andrew Neel ("King Kelly"), the movie is based on Brad Land's 2004 memoir about a college freshman who pledges his cooler older brother's fraternity and is subjected to barbarous hazing rituals, mere months after carjackers beat him to a pulp late one night. Jonas plays Brett, the elder brother, who is complicit in his sibling's "hell week" hazing -- extreme drinking, eating from a toilet bowl while blindfolded, goat defilement -- until the brutalities bring his younger half, Brad ("Pride" star Ben Schnetzer), and their classmates to a breaking point.
As Jonas sees it, the project is a treatise on the "standards that men hold each other to at times." Using emotionally clipped dialogue overflowing with butch monikers like "dude" and "bro" and "man," Neel, who co-wrote the script with David Gordon Green and Mike Roberts, indicts the young men's affective remove as much as he does their violent amusements. At a time when culture at large is questioning the performative nature of gender, "Goat" is a minor reinforcement of the ills of hard-nosed machismo. Even Brett and Brad can't conjure up the wherewithal to discuss their emotions with much frankness. Their conversations are caring but superficial.
"There’s a loss of identity in the beginning, an inability to be transparent," Jonas told The Huffington Post while discussing the film at Sundance. "In that setting, they get out of hand. One of the scariest things to me was, I really feel like I’m a pretty even-keeled person with a good outlook and respect level, but in that environment, deep within the character, you see how easy it is to go to that place because you’re one-upping each other and it’s this heavy environment filled with young men trying to make an impression. It’s dangerous. It’s something that I became very conscious of afterwards."
Jonas understands that telling stories like that of "Goat" won't overturn the problems the movie addresses. (In 2013, for example, a New York student died during a blindfolded ritual.) But for someone whose pop career has yielded arguably one of music's most enthusiastic fan bases, including a slew of gay followers he "loves," the film reminded Jonas that vulnerability is a virtue. When he's onstage or in the studio, Jonas doesn't have the advantage of couching his emotions in the fiction of a script. (Granted, he does have the advantage of songwriting partners and co-producers.)
"When I’m [playing] a character, I can look at it and know it’s not me and not be concerned with how it looks," Jonas said. "[Songwriting is] something that I own -- it’s my property, it’s my music, it’s my voice. There are those moments that I get uncomfortable and I have to check myself and say, 'Be vulnerable.' That’s the thing that’s going to make people the most connected to me and make me the most free as a person. It's finding a new way to look at it, and I’m trying to do that more in my own life. Maybe this movie influenced that, and maybe it’s my family. I don’t really know, but it’s a culmination of a lot of things that I think are a positive progression."
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