-Woody Allen does Woody Allen things, and Captain Fantastic is surprisingly non-pretentious.
Woody Allen gets such disparate critical reception for films that tend to always feel the same. For some odd reason, Cafe Society has been lauded as one of the good ones, a classic, easy-going Woody Allen piece that toes the fine lines between comedy, romance, and dramatic tension. Truthfully, I couldn’t really tell a difference in quality between this and last year’s Irrational Man, but overall, this film is an enjoyable experience, even if it is messy and occasionally formulaic.
We open with Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg with a perfect name for a Jesse Eisenberg character) trying to make it big, so he leaves Brooklyn, and latches on as an intern for his big-bad-Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood agent with a flair for the dramatic. His receptionist Veronica (Kristen Stewart) is having an affair with Phil, but gets involved with Bobby as well. Other actors like Corey Stoll and Blake Lively appear in a normal Allen ensemble cast.
We get the jazz music intro during the credits and some pretty old-school narration from Allen himself to set the story up, and what occurs after is just a very enjoyable 90 minutes at the movies. The pacing suffers when time passes with nothing but two lines of Allen’s narration to try to fill us in, and Blake Lively’s introduction felt very rushed. Although Eisenberg does plays the awkward, fish-out-of-water in Hollywood with effectiveness, Kristen Stewart really struggles to be the likable love interest. She’s just filled with too much of her own aura to work in that way, and Allen’s movie feels a little bit like an old director resting on his laurels. Either way, it was enjoyable enough.
Cafe Society (2016)
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, and Corey Stoll
RT Score: 73%
As for Captain Fantastic, I understand that this is a late review, but I needed to see this quirky little gem before it exited theaters. It’s timely, and it details the struggle of parenting and also the double standards in the educational system as a whole.
Viggo Mortensen is Ben, a 50-ish father of six, living out with his children in the wilderness, with only a cabin and a few tents as their home. The kids are taught to read and interpret literature beyond their years, and they begin learning to hunt and survive off of the land. When Ben’s wife/the children’s mom passes away, they must rejoin society and familial life for the funeral, but when society gets to know Ben’s children, he must decide whether or not he made a mistake.
It’s an interesting concept, where socially awkward and under-developed kids are thrown into situations they are unfamiliar with, easily being able to discuss American politics or Marxism, but unable to understand why any teenage boy would want to play Mortal Kombat.
Mortensen turns in a sensational performance, one of wonderful nuance, where he is filled with both fatherly pride and conflicted emotions. All of the children give good performances, and the film really is an indictment on how we don’t focus on academics as much anymore, or fitness, but instead the growth of the internet and social media. The film had a chance to be preachy, but wasn’t, rather a tale of familial relationships and a slight indictment on the direction of American society. The ending, involving the wishes for the outcome of the funeral, feels tacked on to the film’s message and unnecessary, and occasionally, some of the drama ceases to be real and instead presented in a less restrained style. Overall, though, it’s heartwarming, sentimental, and smart.
Captain Fantastic (2016)
Director: Matt Ross
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, and Frank Langella
with: Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, and Charlie Shotwell
RT Score: 71%