Review: Captain Fantastic – ‘Mosquito Coast’ meets ‘Partridge Family’

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Captain FantasticThe movie Captain Fantastic is an eccentric new ‘f*** society’ film that can best be described as an R-rated mash-up of The Mosquito Coast and The Partridge Family. It’s sure to fire up the religious right (or anyone who leans that way) with its language (which is even spoken by the kids) and its irreverence for societal norms, like celebrating ‘Noam Chomsky Day’ instead of Christmas.

This odd but entertaining film was written and helmed by longtime actor and short-time feature film director, Matt Ross, who, strangely enough, plays the Hooli CEO, Gavin Belson, on HBO’s Silicon Valley television series. Who knew that guy is also a talented filmmaker?

Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, AKA the titular Captain Fantastic, who has taken his rather large family off the grid, raising them and schooling them in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. His wife has a mental illness and has returned to civilization for treatment, but when she dies the entire entourage travels to New Mexico to attend her funeral, against the wishes of the woman’s father (Frank Langella), who has an extreme dislike of the Captain.

The film offers commentary on modern society’s ills: books over video games, nature over shopping malls, new age spiritualism over organized religion, socialism over capitalism, and brutal honesty over little white lies; and it ingeniously shows how, be it in the city or the primeval forest, man is his own worst enemy.

It all sounds like pretty deep stuff, it is; but then there’s that Partridge Family aspect I mentioned, where the family is sitting around and strikes up an impromptu jam session and/or song. Weird and head-scratching moments to be sure, but kind of fun nevertheless.

Captain Fantastic1981’s The Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux, is one of my all-time favorite books, and the premise of this film seems as if it was lifted straight from that novel. The Mosquito Coast film starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren and River Phoenix is very good as well, so it’s difficult not to compare it with Captain Fantastic. (I recommend them both.)

Although the script and most of the young actors do a great job of convincing you that the homeschooling the Fantastic kids receive from their intelligent and rebellious mother & father makes them dramatically smarter and stronger than your average child; but that’s going to require some serious suspension of disbelief on your part. And if you don’t buy into it, then this film might completely miss its mark with you.

George MacKay as the oldest son, Bo, delivers an excellent performance in this film, as does the entire ensemble cast that includes Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd, and Nicholas Hamilton as the only naysayer in the Fantastic family.

Of course, the standout here is Mortensen, who does a wonderful job playing a man who is fighting the world in an effort to do what he thinks is best for his family, even when it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Captain Fantastic is a lot darker than its light-hearted title leads you to believe. It’s a thought-provoking and timely story that depicts the pitfalls of standing for your beliefs instead of compromising for the greater good. Grade: 8/10

‘Captain Fantastic’ is currently in limited release, opening in the Phoenix Metro area on July 15, 2016. Please check your local listings for dates and showtimes.

Photos © Bleecker Street

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.


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  • “The Mosquito Coast” is one of my favorite films because it doesn’t really profess a “lesson”, simply examines the victories as well as dangers and conflicts of standing by your principles to the core, even to the point of endangering your own family and the children who depend on you, to do it.

    While I would be excited to see this complicated dynamic explored more often in film, from what you described, I’m afraid “Captain Fantastic” sounds more like “The Royal Tenenbaums” with a moral lecture on the supremacy of establishment, Progressive principles over Conservatism or Libertarianism than “The Mosquito Coast”. But I could be wrong.

    What I liked about the latter film, is that it didn’t have only answers; it left lots of questions about human ideals and examined the point where extreme fixation on a social ideal, one initially considered virtuous, actually turns into a vice itself with obsession. Most viewers likely start-out with admiration for Harrison Ford’s independent-minded, principled character but by the end, may have questions about the morality of his choice to bring his family along for the ride in his search for perfect freedom.

    If every path in the story had lead to his character only emerging as a perfect ideal or as an example of “how to live the right way”, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t appreciate the film in the same way I do.

    • Thanks for the insightful comments, LuluB! Let us know if you like ‘Captain Fantastic,’ and if you haven’t read Theroux’s Mosquito Coast book yet , I highly recommend it!