Saturday, March 04, 2017

"Captain Fantastic": one-paragraph review

"Captain Fantastic" is a 2016 dramedy directed by Matt Ross and starring Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen plays Ben Cash, the father of six children whom he is home-schooling away from civilization and training in hand-to-hand combat as well as wilderness survival. Ben's wife, Leslie, is initially away from the family, hospitalized for mental illness. Ben then gets the news that Leslie has committed suicide, but his father-in-law Jack (Frank Langella) warns Ben to stay away from the memorial service and burial. Ben, in reading his wife's will (the family isn't so unplugged that it can't receive mail), discovers that Leslie wanted to be cremated, not buried, and then to have her ashes flushed down a public toilet in celebration of life's comedy. Jack, meanwhile, is bent on ignoring his daughter's wishes and giving her a Christian burial. Much of the film is devoted to the "rescue" of Leslie's corpse, but because "Captain Fantastic" is in large part a road movie, there are plenty of incidents along the way. I found the film cute, but there were a few too many implausibilities for me to relate deeply to Ben and his quirky family. The littlest kids, for one thing, are way too precocious (although that may actually have been the point of Ben's home-schooling: he's raising geniuses); Ben's chosen lifestyle—which doesn't fully reject civilization but merely pulls his family away from the grid, away from consumer capitalism—doesn't strike me as tenable, mainly because there's far too much potential for a Lord of the Flies scenario to take over; finally, when we get a glimpse of Leslie's exhumed corpse, it's in far too pretty a state to be believable, and this took me right out of the movie, which had, up to that moment, made a point of being frank about brutal life-truths: why paper over the reality of a decaying body? There are also fish-out-of-water elements to the story that struck me as rather boilerplate; except for their swearing and their cultivated disdain for religion, Ben's kids could have been Amish, given their predictable difficulty with handling civilization. Parts of the film felt a bit draggy, but overall, this wasn't a horrible ride. I simply had trouble relating—partly because, if this is supposed to be a critique of modern civilization, it's an awkward one at best: the fantasy elements override and undermine the attempts, however earnest, at commentary.

ADDENDUM: "Captain Fantastic" does contain one beautiful moment that choked me up: it's when the family is singing its own version of the Guns N' Roses song "Sweet Child of Mine." You'll know it when you see it.


John Mac said...

Okay, I was expecting a more positive review when I saw your link in my comments. Still, it might be worth a watch, just for the story's uniqueness.

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, it's worth a watch.