A not quite fantastic dramedy

by Gazette Reporter

CAPTAIN Fantastic is a gorgeously shot, often heart-warming and occasionally poignant dramedy, telling the story of a father attempting to raise his family in seclusion with a strict sense of idealism and outsider politics.
While Viggo Mortensen is perfect as the radical patriarch in this enjoyable, offbeat road movie, Captain Fantastic suffers from underdeveloped themes and a tendency to fall back on flat political discourse and all-too-familiar tropes.
Ben Cash and his family live off the grid in a secluded Washington woodland.
Exhibiting an acute disdain for the capitalist culture of modern America, Ben raises his children with ideological fervour, training them in the basics of survivalism, teaching them multiple languages and lecturing a vast swathe of communist doctrine.
Despite some oddball tendencies, Ben’s children seem happy and healthy enough.
Tragedy, however, sets them off on a journey of personal discovery across America: Ben’s wife, suffering from depression in an institution, has taken her own life.
The family leaves for New Mexico to reclaim her body from his in-laws and have it cremated, in line with her beliefs as a Buddhist.
Captain Fantastic is at its best when attempting to probe Ben’s seemingly unshakeable worldview.
While his idealism is often infectious, director Matt Ross doesn’t refrain from exposing the darker side of such an unwavering attitude.
Indeed, although Ben leads his brood with tenderness, humour and a kind hand, he is occasionally unsympathetic and often easy to dislike.
The Cash family, raised on ritual and optimistic radicalism, occasionally borders on a cult – with Ben as its fanatical leader.
Ben doesn’t give his children freedom to grow. Rather, he leaves them no other option than to follow in his footsteps.
Consequently, Captain Fantastic works best when Ben begins to learn how to be a father, and not just a leader or guide.
Ross’s film is genuinely affecting when the cracks begin to show in Ben’s perception of himself.
Unfortunately, while this makes for an emotional, human story, it muddles some of the politics on which it is founded and leaves a number of interesting themes underdeveloped.
The alternative child-rearing politics it espouses often boils down to videogames = bad, reading = good.
Unfortunately, for all its radicalism, Captain Fantastic rarely thinks outside the box.
The road movie plot frequently journeys through well-worn territory and familiar fish out of water jokes dominate the script.
While there is plenty of room to explore the potentially hilarious interactions that Ben’s children could have with wider society, the most significant encounter comes down to tiresome clumsiness with the opposite sex.
Despite its flaws, Captain Fantastic is often moving, thoughtful and stimulating; the sense of idealism that permeates throughout is, admittedly, genuinely inspiring.
While it suffers from an occasionally torpid pace and about three endings too many,
Captain Fantastic has much to say about family life and the cost of idealism.
Beautifully shot and replete with some great performances from its young stars, especially George McKay as eldest son Bodevan, Captain Fantastic is certainly worth a look.
It’s just a shame it never quite manages to tell the radical tale that its oddball beginning suggests.
Verdict: 7/10

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