The Kings of Summer (3 1/2 Stars Out of 5 Stars)
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by: Chris Galleta
Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, and Megan Mullaly
As a teenager, my parents frustrated me all of the time. I used to remember being a social outcast, teased, and sometimes tormented by other students, but never wanting to talk about that with my parents. My dad would always come home from work asking "How was your day?" I remember how annoyed I would get by this question, I just wanted alone time, and did not want to talk about how bad my day was. This film captures that moment in time where the disconnect between parent and child is greatest, and you want to runaway and escape.
Summer follows three young boys who make a home for themselves in the woods when they runaway from their homes. Two of kids have been best friends for years Joe (Robinson) and Patrick (Basso), and they end up randomly getting a tag a long Biaggio (Arias) whose quirks are just hilarious. Joe and his dad Frank (Offerman) are constantly at war, there disconnect happened when Joe's mom passed away. Meanwhile Patrick's parents including Megan Mullaly give him hives. When comes to shove these two kids get pushed too far, and they decide to escape to the woods, and make their own house, along with Biaggio.
For their both Vogt-Roberts and Galleta's first major film they achieve something incredibly humorous and heartfelt. This film has an element missing from many films today, that intangible element which makes you laugh, but care about the characters and their development. There are times when the emotional weight and connections are too thin, and the laughs are too quirky, but not ever enough to ruin this film. Galleta's script does a great job exploring the concept of family, being a man, and that everlasting bond of friendship at such a young age.
Friendship and adulthood are key elements to this script. Joe wants to be seen as a man so he can be on his own, but all he really wants is the love of the parent he lost; he thinks he knows what it means to be an adult, but soon discovers adulthood can be a lonely place. Joe's friendship with Patrick and Biaggio help delve into the way friendships grow and develop as well proving that there is more than just playing fort. The films script is not all about the serious, in fact its quite clever and one incredibly funny film. Vogt-Robert's direction brings out the best in the script, fleshing out the humor and getting some great performances on the screen.
For such a small film this cast is fantastic, with not only Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly, but Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Alison Brie. These four actors along with the three young male leads round out an incredible ensemble. I will say one of the problems with the script is that while you are supposed to hate and grow to love Offerman's Frank you never hate him, because he is hilarious and just too damn funny. Of the adults, he is the best. Nick Robinson is a star on the rise he played Joey with so much angst, heart and vulnerability it was one of the best performances I have seen so far this year. Watching Joe grow throughout the film provides you with a deeper richer meaning when you think about your own maturation, and the girl who broke your heart, or when you started to get your parents.
While the script and the and acting elements standout, the technical aspects of this film bring everything together. Ross Riege's lensing helps capture the beauty and stark reality of the nature the boys call home. Films like this are rarely given credit for the technical aspects, but this film knows how to not only place you in the environment but within a young boys mind. The fractured (intentional) editing helps make you feel as though you are looking at things like you are a 15 year old boy, especially the Super Nintendo referenced scenes cutting back and forth between the real world, and the video game influence.
At the end of the day the cast shines, the film is beautifully shot, and this is a fun film. Together all these elements make for a special experience providing a summer escape from the explosions, allowing audiences to commune with nature, nature, laugh, and remember just how tough it was to be a teenager again. This was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had at the movies all year.