Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) has been raising his kids in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. He teaches them basic survival skills and educates them about critical thinkers like Noam Chomsky. Upon discovering that his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller), had died, he plans to take his kids to attend her funeral in spite of the fact that her draconian father, Jack (Frank Langella), disapproves of his off-the-grid lifestyle and doesn't want him at the funeral. They also both disagree about what kind of funeral Leslie should have. Jack's wife, Abigail (Ann Dowd), is a bit more open-minded than Jack. Ben and his kids travel to the funeral via a school bus, and stop at the home of Ben's sister, Harper (Kathryn Hahn), and brother-in-law, Dave (Steve Zahn). During the dinner there, they arguing with each other about their different perspectives on parenting skills. Ben's kids, meanwhile, struggle to adjust to modern civilization. Bodevan (George MacKay), his teenage son, even learns a lesson or two about true love when he flirts with Claire (Erin Moriarty).
As with many films, Captain Fantastic begins on a strong note, but then gradually becomes more and more contrived and uneven while shying away from exploring its darker, deeper issues lurking beneath its surface. You can actually feel the wheels of the screenplay turning. Walking the line between comedy, tragedy and drama is no easy task. Writer/director Matt Ross walks that line quite often throughout the film with mixed results by time the end credits roll. At least he does provide you with a window into the hearts and minds of Ben and his kids in the first act and second act. They're each unique individuals, but once they go out into society, their flaws become a little bit more visible. The fact that the characters, including Jack, are all complex human beings instead of caricatures (Jack, for instance, while unlikable, isn't a villain after all). Once Ben and his kids clash with the his sister's family, that's around the time that Captain Fantastic begins to lose its teeth while going for cheap laughs and schmaltz rather than profound revelations or subtlety. It raises issues about individuality, freedom, happiness, societal pressures and more which are compelling to think about, but it essentially bites more than it could chew.
What holds the film together, though, when it falls apart are the terrific performances by everyone, especially Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay and Frank Langella. Whenever the screenplay dips into eye-rolling contrivances, the actors make it tolerable and engaging experience for the audience. In other words, the performances somewhat compensate for the screenplay's deficiencies. With a darker, deeper, more organic and sensitive screenplay, Captain Fantastic could have been much more powerful, poignant and memorable.
Cold War 2
Fathers and Daughters
Our Little Sister