From now until February 26th, I will be taking to be taking a brief look at the nominees for The 89th Annual Academy Awards, one film at a time in several categories.
Nominated for: Best Actor – Viggo Mortensen
I have an affection for movies about particularly weird families. I love the textures of families who have unique problems, unique lifestyle that make you glad your a fly on the wall to their bizarre union. This includes such diverse broods as The Berkmans, The McCalistars, The Friedmans, The Simpsons, The Klumps, The Skywalkers, The Royals, The Addams and that weird family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I even like The Pack family of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes.
The Cash family of Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic is eccentric too. They live off-the-grid and are headed by Ben Cash (Best Actor nominee Viggo Mortensen), a father of five whose parenting skills are either to be admired , scoffed or prosecuted. He lives alone with his children in the wilds of northern Washington State teaching his small brood how to live off the land by hunting and fishing but also by understanding the intellectual pursuits of history, quantum mechanics and philosophy (They celebrate Cholmsky like he’s a natural born legend). Ben teaches his children to reject the American society that offers only fast food, video games and rank ignorance. Instead he wants his kids to be self-sustaining eco-warriors with the heart of a lion and a brain devoid of nonsense. You can have your comparative stance but to me they seem to reside somewhere between Swiss Family Robinson and the Partridge Family (they travel in a large bus).
You can have your point of view about Ben’s parenting skills whether you believe that he’s doing the right thing or keeping the kids completely unprepared for the real world. The problem is that the movie doesn’t really land either way. I enjoy watching this family’s off-kilter manner but the movie doesn’t quite know which point of view it needs to make. At once writer-director Matt Ross’ script admires Ben’s technique, the next minute it questions his methods with relation to the kids’ functionality in the real world. There is never really a leaning one way or the other.
The story forces Ben and the kids out of the woods when a family tragedy (largely Ben’s fault) brings them back into civilization for a funeral and a cold-water treatment to the real world that they aren’t really prepared for. This could either be a statement or a comedy of errors but the movie never really lands on either side. It kind of rides the middle, depending on the viewer. Me, I thought Ben was missing the larger picture of sustaining kids who won’t be prepared for what the world was going to give them. Sure, you want them to be strong and intelligent, but where is the pursuit of being able to mingle within society without looking like an off-kilter hippy weirdo?
One note: Viggo Mortensen has been nominated for Best Actor, but I’m not sure I understand why. It’s an ordinary performance, but it’s not a special one. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about Ben other than his parenting skills. Why not give that slot to someone really unique, like Adam Driver’s poet in Paterson, Andrew Garfield in Silence, Joel Edgerton in Loving, Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins, Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool or any of the three wonderful actors who played Chiron in Moonlight. Mortensen gives a nice, good, ordinary performance, but it’s not worth singling out.