Captain Fantastic


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Shree Crooks, Viggo Mortensen, Samantha Isler, Nicholas Hamilton, Annalise Basso, George MacKay, Charlie Shotwell in Captain Fantastic - deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent.
"Taken as a whole, however, the director is trying too hard, pushing this family so far into caricature that we lose sight of the story of grief that is underpinning the shenanigans." | Photo: Regan MacStravic/BleeckerStreet

A sort of Swiss Family Robinson for the hipster generation, the clan at the heart of actor-turned-director Matt Ross's latest film have not been shipwrecked but deliberately isolated out in the woods by their patriarch Ben (a bushy bearded Viggo Mortenson). There, his six children more or less have the run of the landscape, their lives ruled by a rota of training that involves, but is not limited to, risking life and limb climbing rocky crags, donning camouflage and killing animals with a bow and knife before, in their off-hours, discussing wholemeal, fat-free literature such as Middlemarch all the while avoiding "non-words" such as "interesting". In short, they are precocious with a twee level bordering on critical and bear absolutely no relation to any child you will ever have met.

There are those who will find their cheerful otherness attractive - even their names, Bodevan (George MacKay), Kieylr (Samantha Isler), Vespyr (Annalise Basso), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell) have been invented so each is unique - but just as many will find it far-fetched and insufferable. Their mum has been spending time in hospital because of frail mental health and the plot kicks into gear when she commits suicide, prompting her parents (Frank Langella on perma-grim setting and Ann Dowd) to plan for a traditional funeral, which sets them at clear odds with Ben, who wants to honour his wife's more out there wishes.

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Packing his family in an achingly whimsical adapted school bus, they head out of the woods and into the thicket of a modern world that no amount of Marxism and fireside philosophy can prepare the kids for. The trip is not without its moments, with a fun episode involving the police seeing the (atheist, natch), children pretending to be a God squad in order to get out of trouble, and a nicely pitched emotional sequence in which Bodevan, who has already been tentatively reaching beyond his family's backyard, has his first brush with romance. Ross also shows good control of his large cast so that each child is distinct and no one is side-lined.

Taken as a whole, however, the director is trying too hard, pushing this family so far into caricature that we lose sight of the story of grief that is underpinning the shenanigans. He also hero-worships Ben to a ridiculous degree, painting all who live in the 'real world' as uninteresting dullards, at best. The broader comedy moments sit uncomfortably with the more upper-middle class jokes. Gags such as Noam Chomsky Day stretch credibility to the limit and are likely to sail over the heads of many non-US audiences, while waspish one-liners such as, "We don't make fun of people...except Christians" are unattractively supercilious. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Captain Fantastic suffers from strange and sudden outbursts of sugary sentiment that never fully gel with the humour. Worst of all are the multiple endings, which ramble on for what seems like a quarter of the runtime, each less satisfying than the last.

Reviewed on: 08 Apr 2016
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A dad who has raised his kids in the forest is forced to take them on a road trip.
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