Do you like living the ‘simple life’? Do you enjoy going off the grid, condemning consumerism and teaching your children to use deadly hunting equipment? Well Viggo Mortensen certainly does, and as we see in Captain Fantastic, it’s not as ‘simple’ a life as you might think.
It’s not uncommon to find an offbeat comedy about family road trips; the last masterful pairing of drama with this ol’ trope being Little Miss Sunshine. However, it’s not every day that you find an intelligent, funny and deeply moving film about a hippy family and their antics in ‘the real world’. That’s where Captain Fantastic steps up to the plate, swings for the fences and aims for a home run. So will this be the new little league legend and steal our hearts? Or is Captain Fantastic just another bench warmer?
Let’s get our tie-dye on and kick this review into the new age, man.
Viggo and family prepare a jumble sale for the local wildlife.
Captain Fantastic is written and directed by Matt Ross (28 Hotel Rooms) and stars Viggo Mortensen (The Lord of the Rings, Eastern Promises) as an anti-establishmentarian father of six whom is forced to take his children out of their wilderness lifestyle and face the ‘real world’(DUN DUN DUNNN). Ben (Mortensen) raises his children with great passion; believing fully that physical conditioning, hunting and intellectual growth are the truly important things his children must learn. Of course, by many of our standards the idea of giving a child a K-BAR combat knife as a present is a little bit koo-koo bananas. But hey, he’s just a ‘wild and ca-ray-zay guy’, right? While this is a pretty easy picture to paint, Captain Fantastic never takes this judgemental route with Ben’s family and their way of life. Instead, Captain Fantastic is challenging, for both the characters and for us; as we see both the children wrestle with a different way of life in ‘our world’, and Ben wrestle with the hard choices that come with parenting. This, coupled with Captain Fantastic’s spectacular commentary on so many things, is why I absolutely fell in love with this movie. Now, let me read you my vows.
“We thank the earth for giving us our home, and the Academy for giving us our Oscar.”
I swear, to never again accept comedies written with less than the intelligence displayed in this movie.
To do so would be shameful for me and the film industry, and so shall I receive ‘death by Young & The Restless marathon’.
In all seriousness, this film is exceptionally well written; from political, social, economic and religious commentary, this film pulls no punches. I never expected to sit down and see a film so cleverly scathe organised religion and consumerism and social norms and parenting. My god, it’s making my head spin just reliving it. Needless to say, Captain Fantastic hits the comedy bullseye over and again. Which is a credit to both the writing of Matt Ross and this standout cast.
Speaking of the cast, this brings me to my next vow.
I swear to love, honour and consistently watch Viggo Mortensen as he continues to be a standout performer. Having always been a fan, it was no surprise to me that Mortensen was superb as always here. However, the real surprise came from the children (and not in the Children of the Corn way). From George MacKay (Pride) as the eldest son Bo, to little Charlie Shotwell as youngest child, Nai; these kids were stellar in this film. Special mention should be made to Samantha Isler and Annalise Basso as sisters Kielyr and Vespyr. I recognised Annalise Basso immediately from Oculus -a severely underrated horror movie from 2013- and was yet again grinning ear-to-ear from seeing a rising star give another great performance. Overall this family unit was terrifically cast, and every one of these young performers should be talents to watch for sure.
Supporting our zany wilderness family, we have Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn (oh casting people, you so rhyme-y), along with Missi Pyle and Frank Langella. Langella turns in a particularly good performance here that leaves you (at times) wanting to reach through the screen to throttle him. Curse you and your great acting for making me want to strangle you, Langella!
Viggo suddenly realises that Salmon Vegas-Cowboy attire is in fact -not- camouflage clothing.
Comedy aside, Captain Fantastic does a masterful job of balancing the scales with enough heart to fill 20 lesser films in this style. It might sound like overpraising, but this is a truly poignant and emotionally charged film that will move you whether you are a parent or not. Particularly resonant with mothers and fathers, Captain Fantastic shines a light on the difficult decisions of parenting in a way I have never quite seen before. It will have you enthralled in the antics of Ben and his tribe, but later questioning if his parenting is as ‘responsible’ or ‘proper’ as it could/should be. This grey area of ‘each to their own’ in parenting is realised perfectly in this story, as Ben clashes with outsiders on ideals over raising children, and bigger still, on how the children themselves feel about their upbringing. Heart-warming, painful, joyous and tragic, and sometimes all at once, Captain Fantastic gives as close to perfect a story of family, parenting and responsibility as I have ever seen.
“And that was when I said “you wanna go, Sauron?” And Gandalf knew it was on.”
Finally we get to the technical side of things, and like Gnome Chomsky would say, “O-EM-GEE so good. #nofilter #philosopherlyf”. The directing here is excellent, and marks what I would call the ‘keep an eye on that boy’ period for Matt Ross in Hollywood. Ross’s vision of Captain Fantastic is so clear in this film that with every shot that goes by you feel more and more that this is a labour of love. As the writer and director, Ross has really tried to produce an honest and original film here, and by all accounts he’s succeeded. The final thing that bears mentioning (for me) is the music in this film, which is as close to ‘offbeat family mixtape’ as I’ve heard in a good long while. Captain Fantastic goes the whole nine yards with bagpipes (no, really), classical music, campfire jam sessions and the most beautiful rendition of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ that I have ever seen. Okay, that last one is definitely personal preference…but you watch Captain Fantastic and tell me that scene didn’t touch you. If you can say that, then I’m sorry. You have failed Viggo Mortensen, and brought shame to your family’s house. Tsk-tsk.
This is a little song I like to call ‘antiestablishmentarianism’ Altogether, now.
Ultimately, Captain Fantastic is -in a word- fantastic! Thank you, I’ll be here all week.
I had no real expectations going into this film and was so pleasantly surprised by what I saw. It’s funny, smart, challenging and powerful in ways that will be refreshing to anyone looking for a little more heart in a film. Captain Fantastic is like finding a childhood box in your attic; you didn’t expect to find anything special here, but you did. What you found suddenly warms your heart in a way you’d forgotten for a while now, and like all special things, it puts that little bit of spark back into you.
Captain Fantastic is a beautiful display of passion and heart that will surprise you at the very least, but there is something special here that (I think) will be talked about for years to come.
Captain Fantastic is available now on dvd and is also gaining momentum in the awards season, so check this out now! Visit the eOne website for more information.
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SUMMARY: A film about parenting without -any- inhibitions. Captain Fantastic is a great film that should be applauded for its originality and heart. Not too left-of-field and not remotely formulaic, this is a fresh and well-rounded film that plays comedy and drama like a fiddle. A wholly enjoyable time for anyone (especially parents) and a strong contender for awards season. You owe it to yourself to see Captain Fantastic.