Captain Fantastic

January 19, 2017 at 9:51 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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There’s only so far that whimsy and sentiment can take an audience and “Captain Fantastic” is an exercise in trying to find that boundary. Full of easy humor and lovable characters submerged in a soup of quirk, this film ambles along its road in as predictable a fashion as one can imagine. An old hippie (Viggo Mortensen) has been living in the woods and raising his children utterly cut off from the larger society. They hunt and skin their own food, have brutal workout regimes and spend their spare time critiquing Nabokov, memorizing the Bill of Rights and quoting Chomsky. When they have to leave the woods and take a road trip to meet their grandparents, humor ensues as worlds clash. However, what doesn’t follow is any level of insight or character development. In its place, we get lots of well-crafted sentiment. Somehow, this film manages to be both earnest and slightly disingenuous at the same time. Writer/director Matt Ross (known more for his TV acting roles in “American Horror Story,” “Silicon Valley,” and “Big Love”) certainly knows how to create genuinely touching scenes and was able to draw some moving moments from Mortensen and some of the kids. However, he does so at the expense of creating any real complexity to these characters. Their extreme upbringing is presented in unconditionally positive light. These children are miracles of functionality, intelligence, physical health, critical thinking and insight. They are superior in every way to the folks they meet in the “normal” world. The story gives the briefest of nods to the idea that Mortensen’s character may have made some poor parental choices with unintended consequences but, even this is disingenuous, as the main purpose of this aside is to then reinforce how right he truly is. In a film that seems to be trying to explore genuine emotions, it feels frustrating to try and do so with such a phony family. The final moments of the film are beautifully developed and quite sweet but I was nagged by the fact that they simply could not have ever happened and that the true story would end with police involvement and child protective services. This really was a lovely, funny, sweet and moving story. But it was also an utterly unrealistic one. I guess you have to decide how much that matters to you.

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