Susan Granger’s review of “Captain Fantastic” (Bleecker Street)
Taking ‘helicopter parenting’ to a new extreme, former hippie Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is raising his six children, ages 7 to 18, off-the-grid in the Pacific Northwest forests.
Ten years ago, Ben and his Buddhist wife, Leslie (Trin Miller), became survivalists, teaching their kids to be self-sufficient, stalking and killing game and homeschooling them in philosophy, history, literature, science and five languages.
Subjected to a strenuous exercise routine, they sleep in a yurt, do chores in adjacent tree houses and teepees, and play musical instruments around a campfire at night. Unconventionally counter-cultured, they ignore Christmas, celebrating Noam Chomsky Day, named after the leftist ‘60s icon.
Each child has a unique name. There’s Bodevan (George MacKay), who secretly yearns to go to college; teenagers Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Vespyr (Annalise Basso); rebellious Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton); Nai (Charlie Shotwell); and young Zaja (Shree Crooks).
But when hospitalized, bi-polar Leslie commits suicide, her wealthy, conservative parents (Frank Langella, Ann Dowd) blame Ben, forbidding him and the children to come to the traditional funeral.
Their subsequent road-trip – in an old, converted school bus named Steve – forms the crux of the drama, as grieving Ben reluctantly introduces his bohemian brood not only to capitalistic civilization but also the materialistic rituals of polite society, most evident when they visit their aunt and uncle (Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn) whose children are glued to their iPhones.
Superbly cast Viggo Mortensen delineates the radical, highly principled mountain-man who lovingly treats his children like young adults, speaking to them with forthright honesty, yet is forced to confront his own fitness as a father.
Actor-turned-writer/director Matt Ross questions the cost of idealism and isolationism, along with what family values are important. One of his cleverest sequences finds the family pretending to be evangelistic Christians to elude arrest by a pursuing policeman.
Apparently, the script draws from Ross’ own life, having been raised by a single mother in rustic, often primitive collective-living situations.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Captain Fantastic” is a wryly amusing, enjoyable 8, revealing a different kind of superhero.