Captain Fantastic (2016)

brooke Captain Fantastic: Every prepper’s dream

casey Particularly if your apocalyptic fantasies are wrapped up in a cartoonishly pretentious hippie fantasy that includes weapons training, calisthenics, mandatory time blocs for reading great literature, and celebrations of Noam Chomsky’s birthday.

brooke Seriously, Noam Chomsky day had me rolling my eyes so hard I thought I’d snap an optic nerve.
But it wasn’t a bad movie? I just didn’t enjoy it that much.

casey Captain Fantastic, which is not the beginning of a superhero franchise, is about left-wing survivalist Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), who lives with his six kids in a seemingly idyllic woodland enclave/commune/boot camp until on day Ben receives word that his wife Leslie, who was under hospital care for mental illness, has killed herself. Leslie’s father blames Ben for having worsened her condition and for the couple’s extremism in general, and bars the family from her funeral. Despite Ben’s initial reluctance, they decide to go anyway, and soon he’s leading his capable, whip-smart, and hopelessly naive kids into the consumerist hellscape they’ve shunned all their lives. What ensues is a gentle and occasionally funny drama about worlds colliding that can’t seem to decide how it thinks about its characters.

brooke There is a sense throughout the movie that the family is admirable in some way, but it never manages to prove that they are anything other than part-crazy, part-impossibly genius extremists. Like, it definitely condemns the lifestyle through the eyes of outsiders, but sometimes Ben fights back to prove what he’s doing works, and other times he doesn’t. It just adds to the unsure footing the movie stands on

casey Yeah, I think it veers from “haha look at how silly they are” to “BUT MAYBE THEY HAVE A POINT.” Which is fine, I guess, but none of the characters feel grounded enough to make it coherent. For example, there’s a scene where the family spends the night with Cash’s sister and her family, who happen to have the most stereotypically Bad American Kids imaginable, a pair of sullen brats who ignore their parents and play video games at the table and don’t even know the Bill of Rights. Now, I’m pretty sure the scene is mostly meant to be taken for laughs and not as an indictment of American education, but it also takes itself seriously enough that you get the feeling it’s meant to be both. But it’s so flat, it never connects. The same goes for the movie’s treatment of similarly weighty topics like consumerism and religion. Also, the quality of acting among the various children is variable: in particular, the kid who rebels against the family and eventually runs away…well, he’s not so good.

brooke The two red-headed sisters are pretty great little actresses and the oldest boy has some good scenes and some really terrible ones… One of my favorite “haha look at how silly they are” moments is when the eldest shares his first kiss with a girl at a campground, and when her mother discovers and teases them he drops to one knee and proposes. They definitely fit the “homeschooled kids are weird” stereotype, and it becomes painfully obvious that these kids need to learn how to interact with other people, even though I’m not sure the movie quite knows how to convey this.

casey It is fun to see them in action as a team, like a scene where Cash fakes a heart attack as the kids rob a convenience store (a blow against capitalist consumerism!) A more interesting movie might have kept them in the woods longer and allowed Cash’s more authoritarian tendencies to reveal themselves slowly, but as it is, Captain Fantastic is mostly just okay. Criticisms aside, I never actively disliked watching it.

brooke I think it wanted to be a Little Miss Sunshine, but never has the great moments that endear you to it the same way (perhaps an impossible task without Paul Dano or the young Abigail Breslin…). It’s not a waste of time, but not really worth it either.

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