Director: Matt Ross
In Theaters: 07.22
Making a meaningful drama about a quirky family is like navigating a minefield plagued with syrupy sweetness or sappy tragedy, but Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic successfully blends a touching family drama with well-timed comedy and the unpredictability of a road movie. Ross captures the emotional core of what makes all families tick, and his stellar cast promptly follows suit.
Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and Leslie (Trin Miller) have chosen to leave the world of American capitalism and raise their six children off the grid in a self-sufficient wilderness home. Here, they make sure their children are well-versed in science, history, Noam Chomsky and how to hunt and kill a deer. When a family tragedy forces them to leave their harmonious home and interact with the world as most of us know it, there are some obvious bumps along the road. Writer/director Ross (Silicon Valley fans will know him as Gavin Belson) uses this fish-out-of-water story to offer up hilarious critiques of modern society, targeting everything from organized religion to public education. Though Ross’ anti-establishment script had the potential to become preachy and pessimistic, he wisely avoided those pitfalls by drawing up equitable perspectives from each character. The family’s suburbanite relatives are excellent foils to Ben’s parenting methods, and watching their two families butt heads is the perfect imagery for the story’s main conflict.
Ross’ script uses each of many contrasting familial ideologies to prove that there is no one right way to raise a family. Though we love Ben’s unorthodox methods, we also realize that he needs to let go of the initial hostility that caused him to bring his family into the wilderness. Captain Fantastic shows how different families struggle, but doesn’t claim to have the answer. Instead, it seeks to prove that every family is less of a static institution and more of an evolving organism.
The adult actors in Captain Fantastic are great, but the film’s younger members make this film work. Investing so much of the plot in younger actors is a huge gamble, but each member of Ben and Leslie’s family, from oldest Bodevan (George MacKay) to the youngest, twins Nai (Charlie Shotwell) and Zaja (Shree Crooks), are well-drawn characters. Costume designer Courtney Hoffman (The Hateful Eight) deserves a lot of the thanks—her creative designs create spot-on character representations—but the performances definitely should not be overlooked. –Alex Springer