Captain Fantastic came out last summer, and I wanted to see it then. I must confess, the cast interested me more than the plot.
Viggo Mortensen is the aptly named Ben Cash, a long disenfranchised survivalist who is, like, so over American capitalism and politics. He and his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller), shown almost entirely in flashback, decide to raise their six kids—three boys and three girls—off the grid in the mountain wilderness of Washington State. Removed from society, Ben and Leslie teach their kids everything from logic and philosophy to hunting and gathering to Norman Mailer and Guns ‘n’ Roses. They do it all without iPhones or religion. Kudos to that!
Nothing is perfect: Leslie suddenly dies, forcing Ben to take his feral kids into the outside 21st Century world for the first time, ever—which calls everything they planned for their family into question.
Director and screenwriter Matt Ross poses some interesting questions about society, conformity, and the social contract in a provocative and often lighthearted way. However, Captain Fantastic is not terribly surprising, which is why it doesn’t work as well as it could. At heart, it’s a standard fish out of water dramedy. Frankly, I spotted every “twist” coming before it got to me: the cop (Rex Young) who pulls over their Partridge Family van, the mildly blasphemous excuse that saves the day, the family’s visit to the supermarket, their reaction to their extended family (and vice versa), that lame scene in which Ben’s sister-in-law (Kathryn Hahn) calls him out onto the carpet for his choices and his youngest daughter (Shree Crooks) recites the Constitution to prove her wrong, eldest son Bo (George MacKay) proposing to the first girl who gives him attention—a trailer park teen queen (Erin Moriarty)—and the colleges he manages to get into, the “situation” that requires modern medical attention. Meh.
For all its grandiose intentions to take on the establishment, Captain Fantastic actually relies on a rather orthodox and pedestrian approach to make its point. Maybe that is its point, that you can’t escape society. It doesn’t mater: this story is predictable and sentimental, two things that never bode well. I expected more than Spokane Swiss Family Brady Bunch, which is essentially what this is. The one thing that saves this film from total mediocrity is the acting, which is great all around.
With Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Charlie Shotwell, Steve Zahn, Elijah Stevenson, Teddy Van Ee
Production: Electric City Entertainment, ShivHans Pictures
Distribution: Bleecker Street, Universal Pictures
(iTunes rental) C