Everyone grows up, it’s a fact of life. From diapers to diapers, it’s something we cannot avoid and has been a prime source of conflict between children and their parents for thousands of years. Growing up (early on), we look up to our parents and adults as the gods of our lives, keeping us safe, feeding us, and giving us something to strive for when we are no longer three feet tall. It’s a nice life for the most part, and everything is peachy-keen until we hit high school. Then, everything changes. No longer seen as our guardians, parents become the sole reason we are unhappy and the bane of our existences. It’s during this time that we see ourselves as immortal gifts to humanity with an invincibility and knowledge about us that you’d only find on Mount Olympus. Teenagers rule the world, right?
The Kings of Summer is a movie that does an excellent job at capturing this time of life with an added comedic filter that helps take the bite out of the ignorance of a few young boys. Set in a small town in Ohio, the film follows Joe (Nick Robinson), a fifteen year old kid who lives with his single father, Frank (Nick Offerman). Frank struggles being the parent in the relationship and rubs Joe the wrong way one night, during Monopoly nonetheless, that sparks a wild idea in Joe’s mind. Joe decides to move out into the woods, build his own house, and live off of the land. Of course, Joe can’t do this alone so he enlists the help of his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and the strange, strange little Biaggio (Moises Arias). As they build their place and acquire the resources to live, Frank and the local community come together to find the boys, who think they can simply run away from their problems.
Now, coming of age stories are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, and each summer seems to see a handful of them try and be something the other ones are not. It’s very difficult capturing the humor and angst of being a teenager and it seems to be even harder to find a worthwhile cast to play the part. The Kings of Summer, however, has almost every angle going for it, and the final product is a breath of fresh air in a genre plagued to repeat itself. Similar to The Sandlot and Stand By Me (two of the best in the genre, in my opinion), The Kings of Summer does a great job at balancing the humor with emotion, while telling a story that’s just a little too surreal to believe. Just like The Beast and The Body did in the other films, The Kings of Summer has its own added element in the house the boys create. It’s used more for a plot device than an actual character in the film, but it helps contain the story and adds a much needed focus to something that can easily get out of hand.
The young cast in the film all do a great job in their respective roles and work very well together. Nick Robinson is strong in the lead, even when his character is written to be a bit of a douche, and Gabriel Basso does a wonderful job as the best friend and eventual romantic rival to Joe. It feels that the two boys are real friends in real life and adds a nice layer of genuineness to their conversations and arguments. The standout of the boys, however, is Moises Arias as Biaggio. A little man who seems to appear out of thin air at just the right moments, Biaggio is the strongest comedic part of the film. Some of the lines utter by the kid are side-splitting funny and the unexpectedness of the character adds even more excitement. Supporting the boys are Nick Offerman (who still channels his inner Swanson), Allison Brie (who’s as gorgeous as ever), Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson, and Erin Moriarty.
The Kings of Summer is far from being a perfect film, but for a small independent outing, you can’t really ask for much more. It’s hilarious in its moments and heart-warming (just a tad) in the next. It has a very simple plot that many of us can relate to and shows the fun and consequences a couple of boys can have when they go build something in the woods. However, the film is fairly predictable (minus Biaggio), and as I mentioned before, suffers from a somewhat confusingly written lead character. It also features one too many slow motion moments and American Eagle-esque sequences that take you a bit out of the picture and more into thinking you’re trying to be sold an over-expensive product. A catchy, yet Hipster-driven soundtrack accompanies the movie and does a great job at submersing you into the world at hand, but in the brief moments you catch yourself basking in pretension, it takes some time to crawl back into the film. Fortunately for us, most of these faults can be easily forgiven.
Like its more dramatic counterpart Mud, The Kings of Summer is effective where it needs to be. It’s funny that in a summer packed full of blockbusters, I continually turn to the smaller releases as my favorites of the year. Probably because I have much lower expectations for the films, these little darlings tend to garner much more of my attention and affection. Or it could be that I’m just getting tired of the big films and big effects. Either way, The Kings of Summer is a nice addition to the season and a film I may find myself revisiting every other year or so. It’s a humorous lesson in friendship, family, and a nice reminder to never let go of that sense of adventure we all had oozing out of bodies when we were younger. Even if we were stupid.
Effective coming-of-age story that’s genuinely funny
a lead character that may be too “real” in his teenage angst and becomes a little too unlikable
moments that take you out of the film, such as the slow motion “advertisements” and the sometimes annoying soundtrack