Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movie Review: Captain Fantastic (2016)

Captain Fantastic movie poster
Captain Fantastic (2016) - Written and Directed by Matt Ross; Starring Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Erin Moriarty, Missy Pyle, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd.

By Kenny Howell

As parents, we are all just trying to get by and do what we think what is right.

Unfortunately for Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen (Jauja), his methods are quite unorthodox. He lives in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest off the grid with his six kids, training them to fend for themselves, and teaching them to be critical thinkers.

That doesn't totally gel with how society tells us to raise our kids, so the relationship Ben has with his family is a bit strained. That becomes a problem when the matriarch of the family, who had been receiving medical care away from the rest of the family, passes away. She took her own life for reasons that are explained later, and that forces the family to pack up and head back to civilization, a capitalistic society that Ben abhors. There, he gets in arguments with his family, mostly because his wife's parents told him to not attend the funeral. It also threatens the relationship he has with his kids.

All this sounds pretty heavy, and as the situation goes, it probably is. But Writer-Director Matt Ross (28 Hotel Rooms) doesn't play it that way. This is a comedy, and a really good one at that. Ben constantly challenges people's held beliefs, and often is proven right in an argumentative sense. But there is no denying, despite the kids ability to fend for themselves, that he is not prepared them to live in the real world. He is preparing them for the idealized one that he envisions, and the kids start to realize this as well.

At one moment in the movie, one of the daughters of the family is reading Lolita. She said she thinks it is good because even though Humbert, the lead character, is essentially a child molester, the way he thinks, and the way he describes the way he loves Lolita is beautiful. That is how you feel about Ben. There are things to admire about how he handles the children, like his style of educating them, but there is plenty wrong. But you can't help but like him and get behind his desire to raise his children that way. A lot of that lands on the terrific Mortensen who keeps this guy from ever being overbearing or annoying, even when he is doing things like teaching his kids to "free the food", which is really just stealing food from a grocery store. There is something infectious about the love he has for his kids, and how strongly he sticks to his principles. But there are definitely some cracks there, and Mortensen keeps them just below the surface. He is really the driving force to what makes this move what it is. A charming adventure that hides ever so slightly just how thoughtful about the real world it is underneath.

Rating: ***1/2

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