Family, change, loss, utopia, capitalism, communism and free will. These are some of the key themes packaged up in two hours of glorious cinematic storytelling. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from this film and hadn’t even read any reviews – all I knew is that Viggo Mortensen stars in it, which is usually a good sign; and that the poster deceivingly resembles a Wes Anderson production. Let me tell you: it sure was, and it’s no Anderson film.
Beautifully shot and supremely acted, it tells the story of a modern-day family of six (ridiculously good-looking) kids, raised in the forests outside Seattle not by wolves, but by their equally lonesome (and duh, good-looking) father Ben and their mum Leslie Cash: a disillusioned couple who after rejecting the notion of modern-society, decides to build a democratic hideout for their “pack” and raise them on a diet of freshly hunted deers, Bach and Chomsky. As you can imagine, the Cash are positively smarter and more athletic than the average bear. Then, one day something changes the family’s lives forever (warning: there will be tears) and forces them to leave their leafy abode for the concrete jungle, where they are confronted with the reality of Mc Donald’s and Walmart America. Everybody loves a good family road trip involving social outcasts – and this is where the fun begins. Now, I don’t want to give too much away, but amongst the comedy moments, there is one scene where the younger kids mistake Nike shoes for a Greek Goddess, which is poignant and priceless.
The film draws you in right from its opening scenes of vast and open, wilderness, and of the Cash’s authentic, fireplace-lit family life. At first glance, you can’t help but admire and get FOMO, wondering if growing up without TV, being homeschooled and hunting or foraging for food is such a bad thing after all. But dig a little deeper, and you may start to feel a bit uneasy at this perfection, and wondering: is it me, or does this seemingly doting father resemble a sect leader at his best, and Stalinist officer at his worst? Yikes. This movie definitely raises a lot of questions revolving around individualism VS the collective, nature VS nurture, and conditioning VS free will. I’m no Mum but if I was, parenting would surely be on the list.
The casting was spot-on and for me, it accounted for much of the film’s authenticity. Everyone is captivating, especially veteran Mortensen who runs the gamut of emotions so deeply, it’s hard not to get carried away and feel things. His son Bo (George McKay) also shines. Then there’s the script, which strikes the right balance and pacing between visceral drama and tasteful comedy, without pushing it too far the cutesy spectrum (ie. not Wes Anderson). I also loved the languid shots of America’s ever-changing landscape and inquisitive close-ups, which had me glued to the screen from start to finish.
If you want a movie that makes you laugh, cry, and question your life (in a good way) – and maybe also have you feeling a little broody and wanting red hair – you’ve got it.
If you like this, also try: Mud, Little Miss Sunshine, Seventh Heaven (no, really – I see some parallels).