Mister Magnificent: Our Review of ‘Captain Fantastic’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - July 14, 2016
Mister Magnificent: Our Review of ‘Captain Fantastic’

While he’s never actually to referred to by the title moniker, he does possess superhero-like traits. He’s physically and mentally fit, youngsters adore him, and he looks to make the present and the future a better place by challenging all of us to be better.

He is Ben Cash (a mesmerizing Viggo Mortensen), a man who with his wife has been raising their six kids in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest over the last stretch of years. From their patriarch, the children – eldest at 18 Bo (George McKay), teenage sisters Kielyr (Samantha Isler) & Vespyr (Annalise Basso), pubescent Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), and precocious youngsters Zaja and Nai – learn among other things how to hunt, fish, plant, cook, clean while also reading up on history and literature and Noam Chomsky. Apparently they’ve done quite fine without Starbucks, Twitter, the news media, and superhero films.

They’re a family that not only encourages Kielyr to read Lolita, but demands her to elucidate her thoughts beyond just the word ‘interesting.’ They’re a family that after she discusses the story, and one of the younger children asks the definition of sex and rape, Ben answers in a straightforward manner.

They’re a family off-the-grid and outside-the-box-office, one warm-hearted group that has created a comprehensive, counterculture existence that should be illuminating to most and offensive to those trapped in their gluttonous, conventional bubbles.

They’re also a family that no longer has a matriarch.

Captain Fantastic opens with the family’s mother Leslie infirmed, and it’s unclear the discussions and decisions made surrounding her hospitalization, which seems to have been either too soon or too late. When Ben finds out she dies, he doesn’t prepare his children: he tells them directly, allowing them, and himself, to grieve in any way they need.

While the children want nothing more to attend the funeral, Ben tells them that’s impossible, for their lifestyle does not jive with that of Leslie’s family, specifically her affluent father Jack (Frank Langella). Despite assurances Ben will be arrested should he visit, the group sets off on Steve (a school bus turned RV) to New Mexico, along the way having some startling realizations about the outside world, and their ability to reconcile the stark disconnect.

Director and writer Matt Ross has created a family and a patriarch that would be unbelievable and easily dismissed if not for the care and compassion that has gone into creating them and their world, and the magnificent performances that support them. Mortensen has a powerful physicality and humanity to him; his Ben treats his kids as adults, demands of them responsibility. He is neither dictator nor buddy, but a reasoned, loving man, flawed still.

Theirs is a journey of humour and hardships, encounters with in-laws and law enforcement that test both their beliefs and their attitudes. The family is viewed with skepticism: that which is different is threatening, and those that are confident are unnerving. Ross creates a curious catch too with this film: those who doubt their way of life, either in the film or watching it, can only protest the idea. Their way of life is limited not by practicality, but by determination and individualism.

Which is not to say Ben and company don’t have much to learn. Bo yearns for academia and has no idea how to talk to girls. Rellian is young and stubborn, possessive of natural defiance of authority, a problematic irony for Ben. For two teenage girls, they’ve lost their maternal influence while navigating a rugged existence. The young one also doesn’t like clothes…I wonder where she gets it from, Ben.

Their skills are tested as they travel, but their ideologies are put front and center when they make it to New Mexico, and Ben must champion his parenting mode to a father-in-law with means and power to put an end to it. Grounded in emotion and backed by a most memorable patriarch, Captain Fantastic is a challenging, feel great film about defiance, health, and happiness, even as it moves more mainstream in its final act. It holds with it the cavalier spirit of its family of heroes, carrying on with a liveliness, and optimism that often seems so rare and elusive.

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