TV3’s movie expert Kate Rodger is carried away on her own personal daydream after hitting the road with this fantastic cinema family.
Starring Viggo Mortenson and George MacKay. Written and directed by Matt Ross.
Fantastic by name, fantastic by nature, this storytelling delight was one of my picks of this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival and is clearly deserving of a full general release. Much has been said about how this role for Viggo Mortensen has, quite simply, been made by the movie gods, so perfect is the fit – so let me throw my “ABSOLUTELY” into the mix.
Mortensen is in his creative element here, in an inspirational and moving story of parents who opt out of society to raise their family in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. When they’re forced back into the ‘real world’, their tight unit faces its biggest challenge – staying together.
As the head of a family of six quite extraordinary children, Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is potentially the parent we all wish we could be – if we lived in the forest, killed, gutted and cooked our own food, and had to climb a perilous cliff-face as part of our PE while consuming a literary diet of Noam Chomsky, Chaucer and Shakespeare in our down time. When we first meet the Cash family, they are without their mother. After a decade in the forest with her family, she’s now in hospital and under the misguided parochial eye of her privileged father Jack (Frank Langella).
As events unfold for this wilderness family, they find themselves out of the forest and on the road into the American hinterland of huge highways, mega-malls and fast food – the ultimate hippy family in homemade clothes travelling in a bus they call ‘Steve’. Needless to say, the grandparents are none too happy when they all roll into town.
There are just so many things to love about this story. There is, of course, the plentiful supply of ‘fish out of water’ material to mine for both humour and heart here, as the Cash kids dip their toes in a world entirely alien to them. Their first ever visit to a fast-food restaurant, or indulging in a little supermarket shoplifting, or trying to relate to kids their own age who couldn’t dissect the innards of their XBox let alone a deer; it’s as thought-provoking as it is hilarious.
Mortensen drives this film, but his support cast of young actors is universally excellent, with not a flat note between them.
As I left the cinema it was all I could do not to bolt for my nearest campervan dealership on a mission to grab my kids plus a few hundred books and run off into the nearest forest-clad vale for a life of living off the land. I woke up from my wondrous daydream just a few moments later as I stood in a dense queue for a double-shot flat white before trotting off down the road to pay an extortionate sum to park my car for two hours. I sighed deeply as I walked – oh to be that courageous.
Captain Fantastic is that kind of film. The one you leave with mascara running down your face, your heart pounding with an almost evangelical fervour, secure in the knowledge that cinema can, could and should change your life – providing you’re brave enough to let it.
“The grandparents are none too happy when they all roll into town. ”