Enjoyable and heart-warming, this has scenes that are very funny and others that are incredibly sad.
But there is still a sense that the film is manipulating the viewer, in quite an arrogant way. That may only occur to you when you find you are uneasy, after watching it. Or it may not. Who knows?
A couple named Cash – get it – live off-grid in the Pacific state of Washington. They have six children, who are physically fit, kill their own food and can quote from Noam Chomsky and from many great works of fiction.
They all play instruments and make good music, too.
Viggo Mortensen is daddy Ben Cash and he brings a visceral and military sense of physicality to this part. We have no idea what mom used to do with the kids – except in brief flashbacks – but dad says he wants to create “philosopher kings”.
Mom dies, very early on. Mom’s family refuses to let Ben go to the funeral. But the kids want to go and philosopher kings get to rule the roost.
George MacKay as eldest son Bo has the most defined character, apart from Ben, although Frank Langella packs a powerful punch as Ben’s father-in-law, Jack.
Erin Moriarty has a very small moment that really stands out.
There are lots of insights that will be true of almost all families. So why do I still feel manipulated?
A philosopher king is not a philosopher queen and the girls do not get the character definition of the boys. Living off-grid and spouting egalitarian slogans does not allow for female equality. And while I don’t expect that from most movies (deep sigh) I do expect it from a movie that announces the values of equality, explicitly.
Living in the woods is very beautiful to look at. Clashes with others who live normally are sharply observed. Would you be as rude as Ben is to a relative who is feeding and sheltering you and your six children?
Our emotions are guided to side with Ben, but a scene of casual shoplifting made me nervous. Is this really how to live individually and, as the film says, to “stick it to the man”, meaning to get one up on a corrupt system?
Despite my misgivings, it’s a movie that will leave you with lots of lively thoughts about individualism and modern life. Those questions are good to discuss. I just wish there had been one strong female character. That would have been more revolutionary and enlightened.
Viggo looks terrific, naked. He owns this part, with or without clothes. So perhaps it’s just petty of me to notice that all the clothing here is well-ironed, even in the messy scenes. Off-grid people I know do not iron.
Matt Ross directs and writes a compelling film with a great role for Viggo and an interesting challenge to modern life. But I don’t think the League of Feminists will be sending him a welcome pack, just yet.
Everyone at the Stratford East Picturehouse enjoyed it and laughed and sniffled at the correct places. Me, I liked it a lot but still felt it lacked a strong female. Except for one brief moment for Erin, as a trailer park girl, this lacked any girl power.