This is one of those films that’s quirky for the sake of being quirky, with a family of survivalists subsisting in a forest and living something of a utopian lifestyle where questions are always answered, debates encouraged, classic literature consumed, and campfire music-making a mainstay. Everyone is fit, rational, hardy, and… very socialist. The patriarch, played by Viggo Mortensen, heads up the clan on his own while his wife is hospitalised for her bipolar disorder. Very early on, though, she commits suicide and his father-in-law effectively bars him from attending her funeral, believing that he was indirectly responsible for her death. The kids insist on going, however, and eventually he concedes, bringing them back to civilisation and testing whether their intelligence can extend to the practical concerns of living in a more social setting.
Mortensen is unsurprisingly lovely here, and I really liked the communal moments that have the family bonding with each other, whether by playing instruments or singing or getting into hijinks. There are also some great comedic moments that, I’ll admit, made me chuckle. I mean, it’s a cute film when you get down to it because the kids are a precious lot, and their reintroduction to society would always be amusing no matter which way you cut it. Unfortunately, it can be painfully on-the-nose at times, and there’s a moment in which Frank Langella essentially tells you the film’s “message” that really couldn’t have been more obvious. And that’s the thing: Captain Fantastic leaves the nuance at Mortensen’s doorstep and decides to telegraph everything else, which is not something I look for in films nowadays. What’s more, quirk can be sophisticated (hi Wes Anderson). It doesn’t have to be spoon-fed to you, which is something Captain Fantastic is constantly doing. And that’s why it only works in spurts rather than in its entirety.