Captain Fantastic (2016)

(On Cable TV, February 2017) Movies about parenthood aren’t rare, but few of them can use situations and characters as rich as Captain Fantastic to make their points. As the movie begins, our protagonist is the father to six children, and they’re not home-schooled as much as they’re on a strict regimen designed to hone their physical and intellectual skills to perfection. Living deep in the woods, this is a family that is aggressively self-reliant, chasing down game for meat and using the evenings for impromptu music, political conversations and literary exploration. But where is the mom? Well, it turns out that the mother has committed suicide while hospitalized, and that event forces the family to rejoin civilization, even if temporarily. That’s when tensions rise, and some of the kids realize how poorly socialized they have been: Living by themselves in the wild is far less difficult than terrifying encounters with their peers. As idealism crashes into pragmatism, what will the family choose to do? Boasting a witty script, beautiful northwestern scenery and a terrific performance by Viggo Mortensen, writer/director Matt Ross delivers a comic drama that pokes at what it means to raise kids, and which values are most useful. The crash between idealism and pragmatism is cleverly explored and the movie gradually grows stronger, which wasn’t a given considering the high concept with which it starts. Captain Fantastic is clearly in the familiar mold of the indie comedies of the last few years (it’s practically branded as a Sundance film) but it earns its emotional beats honestly, and leaves plenty of thought-provoking material for parents.

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