There is something in both family dramas and road-trip comedies that everyone can relate to and, happy or sad, they channel the ultimate feel-good vibe. Captain Fantastic, Matt Ross’s dramedy about a family living off-grid is another one of these, a character study that explores the pros and cons of seeking an alternative to capitalism.
The father of the brood, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), is determined that his six children will receive an education that they cannot get from following a normal lifestyle. He brings them up in a forest camp deep in the Pacific Northwest, hunting animals, carrying out grueling endurance training and reading. But when their mother dies, the kids want to attend her funeral, despite their grandfather’s wishes that they don’t. What follows is a road trip that sees the children get a glimpse of the ‘real world’ – and sees their father start to question his choices.
A bizarre amalgamation of Lord of the Flies and The Sound of Music, Captain Fantastic is at its best when it pushes the characters to the fore. Eldest child Bodevan (George MacKay) is left perplexed after a brief fling makes him realise just how much he has to learn – despite gaining a place at all the Ivy League universities. Second youngest Zaja (Shree Crooks) is delightful, with Crooks bringing a comedic timing to the role that belies her age. Mortensen is dependable as the kids’ father, yet the bond between him and his children lacks some believability at times and he makes Ben just a bit too self-absorbed for us to feel he really cares all that much about them.
Despite some rather desperate attempts at pushing the alternative lifestyle, there are some tender moments of comedy. While travelling to their mother’s funeral on their bus, affectionately named Steve, the kids avert a run-in with the law by adopting the personas of evangelical Christians, terrifying a policeman into submission. These moments come too few and far between, however, and while every ‘good’ aspect of the alternative lifestyle is balanced out with a ‘bad’ one, the entire scenario is a little trite, with an ending that is overly sentimental.
Nonetheless, this is an easy watching drama that pleasingly pokes fun at various institutions and will leave viewers considering getting out of their cosy consumerist comfort zone – if perhaps not going as far as to celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday.
Captain Fantastic will be available on Blu-ray and DVD from 23 January.
Words by Imogen Robinson