“Captain Fantastic” – a film review by Gary Chew
It’s not unreasonable to say a quick three-word description for Captain Fantastic could make muster as Little Miss Sunshine. But Captain Fantastic is so much different than that awesomely neat movie of 2006 which was a big favorite of mine; no traveling in an old VW bus this time. Heck no. Now, it’s a great big old funky genuine bus with Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) as the Daddy driver with all his kids along for the ride.
Ben has six children … three boys and three girls. I think it’s three boys, as one of the smallest children usually wears an old gas mask, so it was difficult for me to truly determine that little one’s gender.
“Living off the grid” with his offspring would be putting it mildly. Ben keeps his kids in full-time basic training, isolated in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Ben’s intellectual education of his kids is as rigorous as the physical regimen. Furthermore, to say the Cash family is only into organic foods would be an understatement. They slaughter their food … with knifes. The Cash clan has no guns … and no soda.
Wife and mother, Leslie (Trin Miller) is seen only in Ben’s dreams. She’s hospitalized, suffering from mental illness in a New Mexico hospital near her parents, Jack and Abigail (Frank Langella and Anne Dowd). It’s early in the film when Ben learns by phone that Leslie has committed suicide.
Then, Captain Fantastic settles … if you can use that word … further into the lifestyle of Ben and the kids, as well as issues that ensue when grieving and handling the anger of a parent’s self-inflicted demise.
That includes the light years cultural distance between Ben and his deceased wife’s father, Jack. Frank Langella, by the way, never comes up short in a movie. What I like about Jack’s character is that it’s written with a steady hand by Matt Ross, who also directed the picture. Jack’s perspective could be easily burlesqued into a cheap laugh or two. Ultimately, Jack is seen as dedicated to being as good a husband and father as Ben.
On the other hand, there are some positive laughs when Ben celebrates Noam Chomsky’s birthday with his kids. It’s a good party. The Cash kids can recite quotes of many famous or infamous philosophers … however you might see it … like Karl Marx, etc. The tough and smart Cash children are also sweet, lovely and naïve. You’ll love them as much as Ben does.
All the young actors here are impressive. As the eldest, George MacKay is particularly fine. It was neat for me, personally, to learn that one of the teenage daughters, Kielyr (a principal character), is played by Samantha Isler, who hails from my former place of residence, called Tulsa.
Act 3 gets a bit bumpy, and on toward melodrama. There are a couple of questions that remain in my mind about a sudden occurrence that presents itself in a bus ride scene, with Ben weeping at the wheel as he slips away from all he loves … and a seemingly overlooked reaction that logically ought be taken by Jack as Ben departs. Just saying.
But I’m also saying that Captain Fantastic is near being a fantastic family film, if you don’t mind an occasional blue word … and a nanosecond of full frontal male nudity … which stuck me as pretty funny.