Though it certainly has its charms, Captain Fantastic’s sweet moments and eccentricity fails to mask the serious flaws that begin to surface in the film’s second half.
Things start out strong: Viggo Mortensen (The Road, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) is fantastic as Ben, a father committed to raising his six kids in a rather unconventional manner off-the-grid in the middle of the woods in the Pacific Northwest. When a tragedy prompts the family to take a road trip south to New Mexico, they come in contact with an outside world that is critical of the physically and mentally rigorous education that Ben has been giving the children. George MacKay (Pride, How I Live Now) gives a noteworthy performance as Ben’s brilliant but socially incompetent oldest son, Bo.
Written and directed by Matt Ross (28 Hotel Rooms), the film is ultimately at its most appealing when it uses the confrontations between Ben’s family and the outside world to comment on contemporary issues and debates in American society. Having grown up in relative isolation reading social critics and philosophers such as Noam Chomsky (whose birthday the family celebrates instead of Christmas), Ben’s children are in a unique position to question aspects of their surroundings that most Americans view as normal but which are indicative of larger social problems within American culture and society as a whole. These moments are played for laughs, but they also serve to strengthen the underlying social commentary which suggests that it is not enough to hold strong values and ideals – one must engage fully with society in order to make those ideals into a reality and affect positive change.
Unfortunately, Captain Fantastic’s primary flaw is that it can’t seem to decide just how seriously it wants to take its main characters and their alternative lifestyle. As the eccentricities of Ben and his family become more and more over-the-top, it begins to become unclear whether Captain Fantastic is sympathizing with its characters or mocking them. This makes the transition from humour to the film’s more emotional and sentimental moments somewhat jarring – are we meant to laugh at Ben’s family or relate to them? It’s a delicate balance to strike, and Ross misses the mark a few too many times to overlook.
Still, Captain Fantastic is a dark, funny, and often sweet examination of parenthood that is certainly worth a look.
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Shannon Page: @ShannonEvePage