Monday, September 11, 2017

Movie Monday: Captain Fantastic

We've seen a bunch of good movies this past month, but my favorite has been Captain Fantastic, the story of a very unusual family facing some difficult challenges. It is both warm and funny.

Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a father who is bringing up his six children in a very unorthodox way in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife, Leslie, decided to bring up their family outside the influence of corporations and government, in their own little quirky homestead out in the woods. The kids know how to hunt, gather, and grow their own food and are in excellent physical shape, but their parents have also paid attention to their intellectual development, creating their own unique academic approach that includes a wide range of books with no conventional age limits on them. In the opening scenes, we see that the children (Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja, and Nai - thank you, IMDB!) seem healthy, well-adjusted, and very happy, despite their strange lifestyle and isolation.

Then tragedy hits, and Ben must take his family out into the wider world for the first time in many years. They pile into their converted bus - just as unique and homemade as everything else they own - and head off on their epic road trip. Besides the expected clashes between their insulated upbringing and the commercial, material world we live in today, they are also encountering their extended family for the first time in years. Their first stop to visit Ben's sister (played by Kathryn Hahn, of Transparent), her husband (played by Steve Zahn of Treme), and their two sons doesn't go well, with Ben's children's swearing and high intellect, paired with Ben's openness with them, going head to head against his sister's traditional parenting approach. The dinner table scene is both hilarious and painful.

Things get worse when they visit Leslie's parents, with Grandpa played by Frank Langella, who is especially unhappy with the children's non-traditional upbringing. Conflict ensues, with it looking for a while like there won't be a happy ending for this wonderful but unusual family.

I absolutely loved this movie, and my husband enjoyed it, too. I expected humor from the fish-out-of-water scenarios, and I wasn't disappointed. But this movie also delivers with plenty of emotional depth, moving from heartwarming to heartbreaking and back again. In addition, Ben and Leslie's unusual approach to parenting and their clashes with the outside world bring up plenty of thought-provoking issues, around education, materialism, and family. Some of the very honest discussions among the characters in the movie further delve into issues like mental health. literature, and politics.

The acting here is superb - Viggo Mortensen was nominated for loads of awards for his role but the kids are the real stars here, and the young actors do a tremendous job playing these warm and quirky kids. This movie will have you laughing one moment and tearing up the next. It was very satisfying and had unusual depth among the typical blockbusters of today. Apparently, I'm not the only one to think so, as it has a long list of award nominations, including a Best Actor Oscar nomination for Viggo Mortensen, and many film festival wins. I'm ready to watch the whole thing again right now!

Captain Fantastic is out on DVD and is currently streaming free on Amazon Prime (link below).

Warning: the movie trailer below gives away more of the plot than I did in my review (but it is from the films' creators, so it's what they intended). If you prefer to watch movies cold, then you might want to skip it...but I included it because it shows the warmth, humor, and humanity of the film.


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