Ben and Leslie Cash have long lived largely off the grid with their offspring – Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai – in a cabin in the mountains of Washington state. The parents have passed their ideals to their children, namely socialism (in its various forms) and survivalism. With the former, Ben considers most of western society as being fascist, especially corporate America. With the latter, he figures that no one will or should be there for you, so you better learn how to take care of yourself in all its aspects. As such, the children have been subject to vigorous physical training, know how to deal with minor bumps, bruises, cuts, sprains and even fractures, and know how to hunt, forage and grow their own food. The children are also non-registered home schooled, meaning that they have no official academic records. Ben and Leslie have tried to make the children critical thinkers, however within the context of their ideals.
Yes, we too first thought this must be another of those stupid Marvel flicks about some rightfully forgotten super hero. But no, as you can see already from the film’s synopsis this is festival material, highly sophisticated intellecshual stuff for the brainz. The basic premise of the film is heartwrenchingly great in its perfect conflict setup.
Here’s my first nag: How come a bunch of highly educated, fiercely individual philosophic kids function like a well-oiled military unit under the command of a patriarchal father figure? In these regards Captain Fantastic makes no sense and clearly presents itself as nothing but a high strung tought experiment … which it also fails in other parts. What a mess. 😦
What will happen if you take a bunch of olympic level fitness survivalist, rock climbing, deer hunting, knife wielding philosophs and political dogmatists … and confront them with “the real world”?
Unfortunately not much. Captain Fantastic, although bound for greatness, fails badly in the delivery. It’s not that the actors are bad, quite the contrary. Even the kids, after a terribly cheesy crying scene when they learn about the suicide of their mother, are giving us very solid performances. But that’s it. Done. Mom is gone, now let’s fill up the unfillable vacuum in our lives, the void negative space she left behind. Let’s get on with the movie. Why?
Viggo Mortensen, whom I think is usually a poor actor, gives us a good performance regarding his level. His role demands a one-minded, one-faced, stoic character, and Mortensen delivers it perfectly. George MacKay – his oldest son Bo – on the other hand is a real discovery. I see a great future for him. And of course Shree Crooks as the youngest daughter Zaja is a treasure. She plays her little girl role with a lot of power and elan as only a child of her age can do. Very believable because she’s basically playing herself. 🙂
Frank Langella is doing a perfect job, as he always does. He’s probably the best actor/character in the movie since he’s not just the evil father in law (who also has to live in a big fat mansion to make the image complete) but also carries a lot of sympathy for his “hippie dressed like a clown” son-in-law. He honestly just wants what he deems the best for his grandchildren.
But back to the movie itself. It’s not easy to put a finger on and figure out exactly where things went wrong. I guess it’s just a bad screenplay. Easy and simple. Captain Fantastic failed at its own attitude. Writer/director Matt Ross, who had mostly only worked for TV before, obviously tried to stem a weight too heavy for his league and level of competence.
No, I’m not nailing it with that. Would be too easy to shrug it off as a technical mistake. Of course Matt Ross tried to do something he wasn’t prepared to do … but why? Where did hubby and me see that Captain Fantastic’s failure lies squarely on the shoulders of the author/director?
As mentioned the cast was very solid, as was the technical side and production stuff. No, it was indeed the lame screenplay that meandered and danced around the pudding. Cowardly avoiding the elephant in the room, shying away from conflict might be a human motion. It’s understandable … for the characters but not for the screenwriter. Unfortunately Captain Fantastic does exactly that: it cowardly avoids all the situations we expected from the basic premise.
The Captain falls flat on its nose, it promises great drama but delivers small scale soap opera dramulette. Add to that the rather cardboard cut out characters, stereotypes all of them, and your big topic goes pØØf. All the conflicts are touched, yes. But only touched, not explored, not lived through. The actors exchange arguments, good and bad but they never have consequences. Break a hand? Break a spine? Pfff put plaster on and forget about it. Momma died? Cry for two minutes and be done with it. It all stays on a cold analytical level. Show must go on! Where subtlety was needed it was served with a steamhammer.
That way Captain Fantastic left Zero Impact on us! Matt Ross should’ve asked for help at least in the writing department. This movie’s idea was too precious to leave it in the hands of a well-meaning amateur, a dilettante. Or, even more fitting in this case: a bush leaguer. 🙂
I could see it in hubby’s face, how this movie worked for him. When I asked him my usual “… and?” once the titles rolled he just said “Bullcrap”. He obviously noticed that I noticed how angry he’d become while watching the movie. So he rationalized his holy anger: “That’s typical bullshit PC, having the kids stealing food, calling it ‘Mission Free the Food’ and selling it as socialism. And the oversimplified interpretation of ‘Lolita’ was cowardish and backwards in the same vein.” Guess he was correct in his …
… CONCLUSION: Captain Fantastic was anything but. Wasted potential. What should have been complicated was oversimplified into the typical black and white conflict. What should have been great drama was presented to us as a feelgood movie … complete with song and dance. 😮
WATCH IT? Not necessarily. And not if you have any higher expectations than on your usual soapie.
What the Experts say:
Oké, Mark loved it. But honestly, what does that guy know about movies, eh?
Of course these Young Turks found it great. Fuck, nobody on my side?
Whoa, a Viggo fangirl from down under. These days everybody and their granny thinks they can have an opinion on movies, or what? 🙂
These two pillocks are meandering aimlessly through a kinda dialogue but the few things they are saying about Captain Fantastic are spot-on.