Middle of the road anti-conformist parable. Captain Fantastic is not the quirky Wes Anderson derivative I was expecting, it’s more rugged. In it, Viggo Mortensen has decidedly raised his children in the woods outside of mainframe society (the movie glosses over how they manage to survive through winter). The parts I enjoyed best were scenes of him reaffirming that his children are better educated than mainstream schooled children. The six of his children together come up with discourse on subjects. The youngest one knows what the Bill of Rights are, and better yet, can interpret them on a practical level. Most mainstream American kids cannot sum it up better than that. Let’s not overlook though that these kids can also catch animals and butcher their own meat.
The mother has killed herself, perhaps as a lament that this kind of life wasn’t working for her long-term. As a testament, she requested herself cremated and her ashes spread unusually (left to you to see for yourself, albeit, that’s the one part that’s a little quirky). I was expecting the big funeral scene to be the cap finale. Not at all. It’s the halfway point of the movie. When the bohemian father Ben makes an unprecedented oratory at a funeral with extended “normal” family, he turns himself into a social embarrassment. In time, he realizes how out of touch he is with negotiating with the norms of society.
How Ben makes amends with his bad behavior at the funeral is a surprising turn in the movie.
There are yet scenes that run on for too long. But the movie scores on the offbeat chances it takes. The oldest son George McKay is so self-aggrandizing he’s antisocial, to the point that he’s the type that you would expect him to turn into an antisocial killer. There’s a redemptive scene where this young man admits that he’s turning out antisocial, and that his father hasn’t helped him adapt to the world.
As you can probably tell, I went back and forth on my feelings with “Captain Fantastic.” It helped I was never lost with Mortensen as my narrative guide, with his hippie yet studly command of all things around him, yet malleable enough to know that change must come. In a way, Ben undergoes a Wes Anderson movie character arc, yet thankfully, Mortensen has jagged character edges to keep it engrossing. I’d also say that Mortensen has the ability to turn screenwriting malarkey into something adaptable, he does what he can to make it halfway plausible.
118 Minutes. Rated R.
COMEDY DRAMA / MOTHER NATURE / WEEKEND TEENS AND PARENTS
Film Cousins: “The Mosquito Coast” (1986); “Running on Empty” (1988); “Grizzly Man” (2005); “Into the Wild” (2007).