Before you ask, this not a film about super heroes. As it stands, the anti-establishment comedy Captain Fantastic has a near perfect ensemble cast, and it is the most fun I had at the movies this year. Viggo Mortensen plays Ben Cash, a father of six who has decided to raise his children as recluse anti-capitalist communists. They all live in a yurt (portable round tents) planted in the middle of a forest somewhere in rural Washington. Cash has homeschooled his kids so well, that even 8 years old Zaja (scene stealer Shree Crooks) knows everything about the American Bill of rights. Beside that, they have been thought to hunt, grow vegetables, cook and bake, build, make their own clothes and learned five languages. When one of his kids has a question, Ben answers truthfully no matter the topic. They don’t celebrate Christmas, but instead celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday just like it is Christmas. It’s on Noam Chomsky’s birthday that Ben gives Zaja, who’s been asking lots of questions about sex, a copy of The joy of sex. Then Ben learns that his wife, and the children’s mom, killed herself. She was institutionalized for bipolar disorder. Ben phones his in-laws to inquire about the funeral and tell the family that his wife wanted to be cremated. But his father-in-law will have none of it. His daughter is to have a Christian burial and if Ben comes near the church, he will be arrested. Ben and the children defiantly drive the family bus (named Steve) to the funeral in New Mexico. Along the way we learn that not everything is rosy in paradise. Unbeknownst to Ben, the oldest son, Bodevan (George MacKay), has applied and been accepted at the best universities, but he’s afraid to tell his dad. Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), the middle son challenges his father’s decision to isolate the family. He’s convinced that Ben may have been responsible for his mom’s mental state. Of all the children, beside the afore-mentioned Shree Crooks, MacKay is most impressive. The lanky actor is either assured, aloof or nervous, or all three together as in a scene where he is meeting a girl. I don’t know if Viggo Mortensen will ever have a better showcase. That’s because there is such a wide variety of things to play. Comedy, tragic drama and tear-jerker, he is able to play it all perfectly. No sweat. Captain Fantastic is the part of a lifetime. And then as Jack, the father-in-law, there is Frank Langela, who frankly does not have to play much. In fact, instead of doing the ‘oh-here-comes-the-awful in-laws’ acting, he underplays so much, and with such a sensibility that we understand the character and know that his heart is in the right place. There are clichés as I was not surprised by some of the turn of events. But the dialogue is fun. Writer/director Matt Ross is an actor himself, and that is probably why the ensemble acting is so impressive. I hope some of them will be remembered come Oscar season.
And the Oscar went to… I was happy for Mortensen’s nomination. But it went to Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea.