July 21st, 2016
MOVIE: CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
STARRING: VIGGO MORTENSEN; GEORGE MACKAY; FRANK LANGELLA; KATHRYN HAHN
DIRECTED BY: MATT ROSS
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
You know the innocent children you see on reality TV shows such as Teen Mom or Sister Wives? I often wonder how they feel about being on such invasive television shows. Don’t they have any say? Especially because the environment they’re raised in is rarely calm, and either affects them negatively or positively with the low-grade fame that comes with it. Well, that is how I felt leaving the theater after director Matt Ross’s film Captain Fantastic. A frustrating film, possibly the most infuriating movie of 2016, with an excellent lead performance from Viggo Mortensen and a cuddly, often insincere plot, that sparks the cynical area of your brain, while attempting to say something about families that live off the grid vs. families that live in the suburbs. I would like to see where this family is 20 years from now, but Captain Fantastic was much less than what the title promises.
Mortensen plays Ben, a father of six children, living in the woods of Washington state. The kids range from ages 6 to 18, all of them homeschooled and surviving on steady diets of deer meat and fresh vegetables from their garden. They are heavily trained in the ways of Bear Grylls, following their father on runs through the hills, learning to defend themselves with knives, and studying Nom Chomsky. This is all the children know, yet living this way has become their norm, with zero cell phones, everyone learning to play musical instruments and pull their own weight for the sake of family. That is, until they find out that their mother, who has been sick with dementia, has killed herself.
Director Matt Ross (who won a Cannes film festival award for his work here) is drawing some interesting conclusions in his film. Oops, I used the word interesting. A scene where daughter Kielyr (Samantha Isler) is asked to explain her thoughts on Nabokov’s Lolita, her explanation of calling it “interesting” does not suffice to her dad because it is too limited of a word. Talk about a smug group. Ross allows questions to arise whether it is better to teach our children the ways of literature and science in the woods, living off the earth, versus the western, clean living way in the suburbs and shitty American school systems. As the conclusion is drawn that the children in the woods are ten times smarter than their cousins, it borders on the director insulting the audience for their feeble ways of living.
The mother’s death sets the family out on the road to ensure she is given the proper burial requested in her will. Along the way they stop at their aunt Harper (Kathryn Hahn) and uncle Dave’s (Steve Zahn) for an uncomfortable family dinner, which fails in comparison to the lovable family dinners in last years John Crowley film- Brooklyn. Holding the family back from achieving their goal of seeing their mother one last time is the stern grandfather (played by an always good Frank Langella), who sees his daughters death as a result to Ben’s reckless ways of living. It makes for an entertaining funeral, but also feels underwhelming, lacking a laugh out loud moment to relieve the tragedy of it all.
The third act reveals how unaware director Matt Ross is that his screenplay blatantly puts its nose up at the audience. Young son Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) expresses anger and disdain for his father consistently and forgets those feelings quickly. Daughter Vespyr is put in terrible danger, climbing on a roof and injuring her foot, which wakes the father up a bit, but the consequences are little. Are we not aware that this father is not funny or cute, but selfish? His actions put his children in danger, teaching them to steal from a grocery store during their travels. Intellectually, he may be father of the year, but realistically he’s a terrible example. This may be the films point, but I couldn’t let him off the hook. I found it all to be oh so hypocritical.
Captain Fantastic could be a movie that many find enjoyable in its different concept of family. I, unfortunately, felt my cynical sensors going crazy, especially since Mortensen’s performance goes to waste with a plot that lets him down. I wouldn’t be against seeing Matt Ross make a sequel though, where the kids are in therapy talking about all the awful things their father made them do. Now that would be fantastic.
Written by: Leo Brady