Captain Fantastic

Directed By: Matt Ross

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Ann Dowd, and Steve Zahn

I'll admit it.  I've been quiet on the indie front this summer.  With the exception of A Bigger Splash —which I just so happen to be overdue on reviewing— and perhaps The Lobster (if it can be loved), I haven't fallen in love with too many movies.  I also don't think our more artistic filmmakers have been speaking to the times in recent months.  With a pun intended given the review I'm about to offer, there's no one right now who is sticking it to the man on the big screen.  All that being said, when there is a lack of interest on my part, a lack of (re)action is sure to follow.  Without any further ado, I'm back at arthouse cinemas, and I have more than a few words to say about actor-director Matt Ross's second feature behind the camera, the indie lovingly known as Captain Fantastic.

Completely disconnected from society and the fascist pigs who have poisoned it with capitalism, father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) raises his children in the woods.  Getting exercise daily, studying habitually, and eating wisely, his children are being prepared to become upstanding pariahs of society.  His wife Claire (Erin Moriarty) is in the hospital and struggling with mental issues, until she isn't.  When Ben gets the call that his wife has committed suicide, he finds a will his wife once wrote on a piece of paper, one that includes cremating her remains and flushing her ashes down a public toilet.  Naturally, Ben's in-laws Jack and Abigail (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd) — who just happen to be fully functional members of society — aren't going to let this happen to their baby girl.  Jack threatens to have Ben arrested.  This only serves to provoke Ben, who decides to hop on a bus named “Steve” and take his family on a road trip to their mother's funeral.

With shades of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Captain Fantastic is one piece of inventive filmmaking that serves up a healthy dose of commentary on the state of our society today.  Not the film with which you would expect to fall in love, Captain Fantastic is also a fun adventure with a lot of heart.  From strict work outs and hunting in the woods to crazy funerals and attempted integration back into modern civilization, it's safe to say that this is one raucous affair.  It's fascinating how these socially isolated children, raised in the woods with a bipolar mother who celebrates Noam Chomsky Day, are somehow better prepared for life than many of their peers of the same age who have grown up with every advantage.  There's a great deal of symbolic commentary about how superficial our comfortable, modern lives can sometimes be.  Nimbly directed by Matt Ross, elevated by a heavenly blissful score, and beautifully acted by a cast of talented actors, the symbolism-drenched character study Captain Fantastic is, well, pretty fantastic.

At the center of Captain Fantastic, we have this intense, introspective performance from veteran actor Viggo Mortensen.  There's a lot taking place in Ben's world.  Coping with the loss of his partner, fighting to honor her final wishes, and working to raise his children to become upstanding members of the outer rims of society as a newly single father, there is a panoply of emotions plaguing this conflicted man.  On top of this, he just happens to be a guy who has pulled the plug on civilization for his entire family, so it's safe to say there are plenty of other underlying issues at play.  As Ben, Mortensen delivers a quietly powerful performance as his character’s internal struggles visibly brood within him.  At the same time, he brings an energetic paternal presence to the film that somehow keeps the film upbeat.  It's yet another fascinating performance from the Lord of the Rings star.  Supported by a fairly strong crop of child actors and some veterans with bit parts, Mortensen shines in this adventurous independent film.

Captain Fantastic
gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Warm, heartfelt, and happy, this independent film hits all the right notes.  Have some wine coolers with this one.