A rare film that will make you laugh, cry, feel good and even think a little.
Some reviewers love it and a few hate it, but the ‘love-its’ have it by a country mile.
As for this reviewer, well, yes I did enjoy it very much, but maybe the first hour a soupçon more than the second hour – but I’m splitting hairs.
Are you tired of formulaic, franchise hi-tech rubbish that the Hollywood factories churn out these days?
Do you sometimes wonder if there are any films being made anymore that can make you laugh, make you cry, make you wonder, make you think, and make you leave with a good feeling in your belly?
If so, then Captain Fantastic may well be the movie for you.
The story is quite simple. An American couple, Ben and Leslie, decide to uproot from so-called civilized America with their six kids and go and live in a cabin located deep in the mountains of Washington State. There’s no electricity or water, no TV, no radio, no smartphones (or any phones) and none of the luxuries – and most might say necessities – of modern day living.
The children are ‘home schooled’, are taught to hunt and forage for their food, and they live the life of backwoodsmen. They are obliged to follow a strict and sometimes dangerous fitness regime and are trained to deal with any emergency that may arise.
They are all apparently happy with their lives in the wilderness, and their intelligent and well-educated parents imbue them with the precepts of socialism and teach them the evils of capitalism, corporate America, and the outside world.
But Mum, (Leslie), has fallen ill. She has a serious mental disorder – paranoid and bipolar – a condition that has possibly been exacerbated by her chosen lifestyle. We don’t see Leslie, except in very brief flashbacks, as when the film opens, she has already been shipped to a hospital where her estranged parents can watch over her.
Soon after the movie starts, the family learn that Leslie has killed herself and the remainder of the film is devoted to the family’s efforts to attend her funeral and what happens in its aftermath.
Leslie’s father, a very wealthy and influential man, blames Ben for the death of his daughter and warns him that if he tries to attend the funeral, he will have him arrested.
At first, Ben accepts that he cannot go, but the six kids want to see their Mom one last time, so in the end, they load up their converted school bus and head back to civilization.
The next part of the movie is really a road trip, and there some amusing incidents along the way. One with a cop who stops them for having a faulty tail light, and an embarrassing episode with the eldest son who has his first kiss with a strange girl, and in particular, a planned raid of a supermarket. Here they succeed in stealing hundreds of dollars worth of groceries under the noses of the shop owners.
There follows a mix of both amusing and serious confrontations with the in-laws. Leslie’s father succeeds in extricating the six kids from Ben’s custody for a while, but it all works out pretty well in the end.
The first part of the film was totally captivating in every possible way, but once they embark on their journey back to the real world, some of the plot holes were a little hard to stomach. In particular, the robbery of the food mart didn’t sit well with this reviewer. Would a father who despised capitalism and wanted his kids to understand the true meaning of right and wrong embark on such a criminal venture?
But apart from the moral issues of the robbery, what about the high risks of getting caught? If they were arrested it would be all over for family life in the mountains. Would he really take such a risk?
Okay, I appreciate it was all done in a spirit of good humor, and it was genuinely funny – but at the expense of the good-natured and well- meaning citizens who become innocent dupes in their felonious act.
One of the most amazing parts of the film was the kids. From the very start, I completely forgot that I was watching a team of child actors. For me, nearly all films containing child actors, no matter how good they are supposed to be, usually make me squirm a little when the ‘little dears’ say their lines. I am always painfully aware that the kids are actors acting parts.
Yet never once throughout the whole movie did I once think to myself, “Hey! these are just kids acting.” I was truly in their world from the very first frame of film to the last. All six kids were truly outstanding, and I was transported to their world. As indeed was Viggo Mortenson who played Ben, their father, to say nothing of the remaining ensemble cast. Not a dud between the lot of them. I particularly liked Frank Langella as the grieving, angry father.
So apart from a couple of plot holes, (which only people like me are mean-spirited enough to take issue with), it is difficult to find fault with this very enjoyable film.
The cinematography, screenplay, and direction were masterful and I hope we will see much more from the pen and undoubted directing talents of Matt Ross.
We need more writers and directors like Matt Ross to bring us back to a time when filmmaking isn’t just another rehash of yet another comic-book hero or a prequel, sequel, spin-off of Star Wars/Star Trek/West world/Frozen/ Finding Dory……and God only knows what franchise.
Four and a half Mobi-Stars out of five for Captain Fantastic.
You can find all my film reviews here: Mobi’s movie reviews on IMDB