Spared or Spoiled Movie Reviews: Captain Fantastic

The rules are simple. The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.

Captain Fantastic (Bleecker StreetUniversal Pictures)

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Written & Directed by Matt Ross

Starring Viggo MortensenFrank LangellaKathryn Hahn & Steve Zahn

Philosophical and intellectual plot holes in abundance but Captain Fantastic is still a pretty good film. No really it is.

Captain Fantastic is the story of a family that has lived for years off the grid. Self-sufficient. Healthy and happy. Until family tragedy (the mother’s mental illness and death) forces them to rejoin the world, begrudgingly and hysterically. This is a fish out of water family. Who clearly benefit from healthy living and minimized technological distractions. But the children have no experience with modern society and very few social skills while at the same time being capable, confident, and extremely intelligent. It is a great movie. And in between yelling at it for being wrong about so many things, I liked it… I guess.

Verdict: SPARED

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The kids of Captain Fantastic are all amazing. (great actors and great characters) The idea is… interesting (I use that word a lot). The kids in this movie are all smarter than me (or is that smarter than I?). I really liked how bright the children are. I liked how well-trained they were for survival. But any well-rounded training would also include etiquette and social discourse. So I felt this was a tremendous plot hole. And any reading list would include books about human interaction (at least Dale Carnegie’s How to…). But the most egregious plot hole is that they call the mother a Buddhist throughout the film and yet her children know very little about Buddhist philosophy. I guess that part of the curriculum is forgotten.

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The “hippie” movement is made fun of quite a lot. And becomes a running joke throughout the film. They make fun of the idea of celebrating Noam Chomsky’s birthday. (HOLES!!!) I did enjoy the joke about not making fun of fat people (Americans are a fat and sickly population and it’s not a joke). But the children are told that it’s okay to make fun of Christians. Then they pretend to be ultra-religious Christian home-schooled kids to scare off police who come snooping around their bus. That was genius. But if you’re strongly Christian you might find that as annoying as I found the fake Buddhism.

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Captain Fantastic is very good from a pure enjoyment stand point but the way it flings around political terms and claims of being morally superior is troubling. The mother was supposedly a Buddhist but never taught her kids not to steal. Not to mention that she was wealthy and didn’t have to steal. The mother was supposedly a Buddhist but in the first scene they kill a deer. I guess the mother was a pretend Buddhist like most of the 60’s hippie children of rich parents. Not interested enough to do the research.

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Then there’s the nonsense about the mother’s mental disorder and her husband sending her to a facility away from her children and her natural food and her healthy lifestyle. Of course she died. And yes I’m saying 100% healthy living is better than all the antipsychotics that exist or will exist for helping to handle even the most serious mental afflictions. (I know this for a fact) There were so many of these social, economic, philosophical and political plot holes in their upbringing that it became annoying. I liked the ending though. It’s a good movie (really it is). Fantastic writing (everything but the philosophy stuff). Good performances from all the kids. Viggo Mortensen is great once again. It’s just the movie pretends to be smarter than it is.

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But of course, if they did things my way, there wouldn’t be a movie. The mother would still be alive. The kids would be capable of social discourse. They would grow their own food. Not kill animals for selfish reasons. And they surely would not have cut off Sweet Child O’ Mine before the change. That’s the best part of the song. What the hell, Matt?

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Captain Fantastic is a great film about family but a horrible film about philosophy. It’s like they had all of these heady ideas and in trying to find a balance with ignorance (that seems to be a running theme these days. Ignorance gets to have its say, in our schools, in our politics, and in our fucking movies) the film-makers poke fun or completely misinterpret simple ideas about compassion and healthy living.

You know you can entertain and still inform right?

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Captain Fantastic features a fantastic cast and a fantastic story and a fantastic premise, it just has a very tenuous grasp on its own philosophical concepts. But it’s still a delightful story with an excellent cast of fine young actors. So I liked it, I guess.

– Mel