By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
One surprisingly strong underdog contender in this year’s Oscar race has been Captain Fantastic, a film whose subject matter I had little interest in, but whose accolades so far, up to and including a Best Ensemble mention from SAG that sunk quite a few other films’ Best Picture hopes, demands I give it a watch. And, after that watch, I felt like I had enough to say to offer another perspective on the film, despite Oberst having arrived at the same rating as I did a few months back, by a fairly different route.
It’s my curse.
Captain Fantastic is about a father (Viggo Mortensen) raising his six children on good book-learnin’ and outdoor survival skills in their woodland camp. When he discovers his wife, who was suffering from manic depression, has committed suicide, he must weigh whether or not to bring the children to the funeral, where her father (Frank Langella) has made it very clear he is not welcome.
Viggo Mortensen, who has been gobbling up a few Best Actor nods throughout the season, really is quite good, giving this film gravitas and feeling, constantly operating in three dimensions even in scenes lesser actors would have portrayed the two on the page. His matter of fact manner of addressing the children (all quite good- not an annoying pipsqueak among them) and their matter of fact, curious responses are a constant source of amusement. There’s a reason fish out of water/culture clash comedy is an old standard- it’s quite effective when done well, and Captain Fantastic largely does it well.
Production-wise, rookie director Matt Rose and his DP Stephane Fontaine shoot the film fetchingly, and I really like Alex Somer’s ambient indie score and the song mix overall. This is sterling Sundance quality.
Where Captain Fantastic really excels, though, is fleshing out the central conflict of what is best for these children in a way that avoids outright villainy and cheap, easy answers. Langella, for all his bluster at first, just wants what’s best for these kids, too, and he makes some good points, underlined by oldest son xx’s () clear socialization issues, which are probably a glimpse into the future for all of these children. Mortensen shows bull-headedness and a willingness to put his children at risk that he knows isn’t always going to be to their benefit. Three dimensions.
Self-satisfied much? Captain Fantastic boasts some college freshman levels of societal analysis at points. Americans are fat! There sure are a lot of stores! Crappy diner food is crappy!
Fuck you. Denny’s is delicious.
Ross also doesn’t always display the strongest control of tone, which can veer a little broad at times, and in the ending walks a particularly fine line it probably slips off of.
I’m getting a little tired of mainstream entertainment’s portrayal of Christians. To be honest, Captain Fantastic shows more restraint than I thought it would, and I know it’s en vogue these days, guys, but creating vastly oversimplified caricatures to give you something to direct your hate and mean-spirited humor at in an attempt to diagnose your own unhappiness with the state of a complicated, grey-hued world that you’re too afraid to acknowledge the complexity of and your honest place in is probably not a state of being you’d like to align yourself with these days.
Let’s go ahead and make “I will represent all Americans” true in practice. Good job.
I know that was harsh, but, you know, logic. Urbodys doin’ it, so based on commonly accepted metrics, Captain Fantastic is an often amusing eccentric fish out of water story with a surprisingly effective emotional resonance.
Captain Fantastic (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for discourses on the ills of modern society
Take a Drink: whenever somebody describes a way to die
Take a Drink: whenever a kid does something fairly age-inappropriate
Take a Drink: for that old standby, culture clash comedy
Take a Drink: whenever something immensely, teeth-grindingly awkward occurs
Do a Shot: for Noam Chomsky Day!