Director: Matt Ross

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler

Year: 2016

I’ve actually seen director Matt Ross’ only other feature film, 2012’s 28 Hotel Rooms, a highly underrated film about sex, infidelity, and, ultimately, love.  There aren’t a ton of similarities between that film and Captain Fantastic, other than a refreshing frankness that’s greatly appreciated and a very hopeful, romantic look at what true love can be that’s far removed from the bitterness of so many others.  The one knock on Ross, and knowing that he doesn’t have much of his own experience to fall back on, is that this film reflects too many others, that you can list 4 or 5 movies that it directly pulls from.  So while, yes, that’s a knock on the guy’s originality perhaps, it was also a smart choice for a man who wrote a great story, cast a phenomenal actor in the lead, but just didn’t have the directing magic to pull a rabbit from a hat.  He borrowed a bit, let the actors speak for themselves a ton, and somehow created one of the best films of the year.

Ben Cash and his wife Leslie have been leading an unconventional life since the birth of their first of six children.  The family lived for a time on a farm, but have now settled deep in the woods, with modern society far behind.  They teach their children to live off the land, to study the works of philosophers, to push their bodies to the limit, to think outside the corporate American box.  Hippies sure, but educated hippies, a group of people who have decided that there isn’t just one way to live, one way to learn, one way to spend every day until you die.  But the utopian beauty of the family’s lifestyle is shattered when Leslie, who has been dealing with severe bipolar disorder, commits suicide.  Wanting to protect his children but also wanting to see his wife once last time, Ben reluctantly brings the clan out of the forest to enter into the real world, a place that doesn’t understand or want them.

Ross won’t win any awards for his creation of this film, but that doesn’t mean that the final product can’t be respected as the success it is.  It’s like the marriage of Little Miss Sunshine and Dogtooth, with a heavy dose of Wes Anderson influence and coming-of-age angst.  Not as funny as Sunshine, not as twisted as Dogtooth, not as artistic as Royal Tenenbaums, but somehow a clever combination of many styles, Captain Fantastic is a family road trip movie with actual depth, a find-yourself drama with real heart.  Viggo puts on a show as the leader of this odd bunch, portraying a loving father who teaches his children about Marx, Lenin, skinning a deer, and making a baby, as if honesty is the first gift we can give our children.  I respected the foundation of this film, I give credit to Ross for knowing what he could and could not do, I think Mortensen is one hell of a fine actor, and I was touched by the overall message & beauty of a movie that is quietly sliding under the radar but should be acknowledged as one of 2016’s greatest.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆