Frustrating. Loaded with ideas (too many), settling for an unearned self-congratulatory air, writer/director Matt Ross proves unequal to his tricky subject matter. New at the game (it’s his second feature), he throws in the towel toward the end, going awfully easy on his lead, a doctrinaire antiestablishmentarian who’s also something a closet paterfamilias fascist. That’d be Viggo Mortensen, radical back-to-the-earth ideologue, imposing a sort of Marxist survivalist creed on his family in the feral NeverLand backwoods of the Pacific Northwest. The six kids are happy, healthy and more than a touch crazy (easy pickin’ for sainthood or sociopath), spouting philosophy & literature from Dad’s eccentrically chosen home-school curriculum. But two crises threaten as first-born son hides a stealth plan for the Ivy League and when their mentally unbalanced mother suicides at the fancy sanatorium her wealthy parents have been paying for. Bustled off on a Merry Pranksters’ bus to catch the funeral, Ross switches gears into Road Pic mode with semi-comic incidents as hit-and-miss as his staging.* Then lets the film fall apart in the last two reels, like a literary conceit that doesn’t add up. We might be watching Dad’s fantasy resolution.
DOUBLE-BILL: No less problematic, THE MOSQUITO COAST/’86 handles similar ideas without whimsy.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Ross really misses a trick when the family dares lunch at a diner. Appalled at the processed crap on offer, Dad hustles everyone out. Yet before splitting he spots the one menu item that might have passed muster: Pancakes! Flour, milk, egg, butter, salt, baking powder. Seven orders, ma’am; hold the fake maple syrup. Even Ross should have seen the possibilities in so many over-sized plates & over-sized portions on a small table-booth.