Captain Fantastic is a feel-good indie about family that doesn't get lost in mawkishness.
Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is a loving father to six incredible kids; together with his wife Leslie (Trin Miller), they've lived off the grid for several years and raised their kids surrounded by the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, despite the disapproval of their extended relatives.
Separated from society, the hippie parents have brought their kids up on a healthy diet of literature, philosophy, music and survival skills, making them uniquely prepared for the wilderness and more articulate than their peers.
However, Leslie suffers from bipolar disorder and doesn't return from an extended stay in hospital. It's a devastating loss for the sprawling family - particularly because their stern grandfather (Frank Langella) forbids Ben from travelling into town to attend her funeral.
Torn between staying in their woodland refuge or braving the trip south and risking losing his kids to the authorities, Ben begins to realise that maybe he's deprived his kids of the one thing every kid needs - a childhood. Ben's eldest Bodevan (George Mackay) wants to enrol at an Ivy League college, but is sorely lacking in social skills and a working knowledge of the outside world. His middle son Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) resents his lack of peers and friends, as well as home comforts like video games. So whilst Ben and Leslie thought what they were doing was for the best, they might've hamstrung their offspring more than they had hoped...
Captain Fantastic is pitching for the same vibe as Little Miss Sunshine and for the most part it hits its target; it's a quaint indie dramaedy that delivers laughs and tears in equal measure, thanks in part to a delicately handled screenplay and some terrific characterisation.
Mortensen makes it what it is though; his brilliant central performance takes the film to the next level. He really leaves it all on the table, stripping down to both a physical and emotional vulnerability that highlights both the challenges of fatherhood as well as the responsibilities of parentage and raising children.
The kids are all good enough, in their own way. Mackay is impressive as the eldest son Bodevan, but the movie really belongs to Mortensen.
Captain Fantastic takes a little while to get going, with the second act feeling particularly sluggish at times. Things find a new gear once the gang arrive at the home of Leslie's father and we get to see the tension between Mortensen and Langella play out face-to-face. The third act is definitely the strongest and, best of all, it ties together with one of the best renditions of Sweet Child O Mine in a soaring, uplifting finale.
The Verdict: 7/10
Captain Fantastic is in cinemas across Australia now