Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George Mackay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd
Directed By: Matt Ross
Plot: Ben (Mortensen) and his wife decided to move out into the wilderness to raise their children. Being both highly educated themselves, they put their children on an unofficial schooling path, consisting of everything from hunting and gathering, to reading books written by the worlds foremost socialists. They teach their children to think critically, and not just regurgitate facts. Ben’s wife is bi-polar, and he has to send her away for treatment, which leads to an even greater adventure for his family, one that sends the kids into a world they’ve only read about in books.
What Works: It’s a weird film, but I loved it anyway. The first scene sets the tone for what is a fairly unrelenting oddity, but it is one that has you sold also from the first frame. The longer I spend with Ben and his children, the more I want to see and get to know them. In many ways, this would make for an excellent TV series, though I know the writers wouldn’t be half as smart as the film writers are. I would forbid it from being a network show, just to keep it away from “studio audiences” and laugh tracks. Mortensen does a fantastic job here. He’s such a commanding presence on screen, it’s nice to see him play a much quieter role than A History Of Violence or Eastern Promises. Though, in true Viggo style, he still manages to show the audience his penis. All of the kids are terrific. It’s hard to pick one as a standout, because they all work so well together, and evenly. The supporting adults are good, with Frank Langella probably being a standout as the disapproving father-in-law. I also have to mention the costume design, which is uniquely perfect and wholly original. It perfectly caps off the film.
What Doesn’t Work: The Dr Spock joke. I get why they made it, but he was trying to come up with a famous person that his dad would be traveling America writing a book about, and he picked a guy who wrote a book about child rearing? No. He picked that because the writer knew that Spock was on Star Trek, and it opened up for another joke. Otherwise, I loved the rest of the film. I just thought that one joke was cheap.
Final Word: Absolutely see this. It’s been getting some awards love recently, with Viggo getting a Golden Globe nomination, as well as a SAG nomination. He might end up with an Oscar nomination, so for those people who try and see every Oscar nominated film, you might as well check this baby off your list. I promise you there’s nothing else like it this year. It gets an originality award, for sure.
Final Grade: A