THE KINGS OF SUMMER
DIRECTED BY Jordan Vogt-Roberts
STARS Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso
Coming-of-age tales are generally a dime a dozen, but here's one pretty much guaranteed to make viewers feel like a million bucks.
A big-screen breakthrough for both writer Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, The Kings of Summer centers on two teenage boys experiencing miserable home lives. Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) has trouble relating to his father Frank (Nick Offerman), who's been in a perpetual state of depression since the death of his wife. Meanwhile, just being around his pesky parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) has caused Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso) to bust out in hives. Past their respective breaking points, the boys, with a weird acquaintance named Biaggio (Moises Arias) in tow, decide to build a house deep in the woods; once it's completed, they leave their homes behind, opting to live in complete freedom while their parents wonder what's behind their disappearance. At first, it's an idyllic life, with the main hurdle being the trio's inability to catch their own food (fortunately, there's a Boston Market just on the other side of the bordering highway). But matters take a turn for the worst after Joe, deciding that the only thing missing from their cabin in the woods is "a woman's touch," invites his crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) to hang out with them. That decision, along with the presence of a menacing copperhead, provides a potential "Eve and the snake" dynamic that might destroy this snatch of Heaven on Earth.
The first hour of this 90-minute gem siphons humor from just about every ingredient available, most notably Frank's grizzly-bear personality, Patrick's reactions to the idiocy of his parents' utterances, and pretty much any moment focusing on the unique Biaggio. But even with this abundance of gags, it's clear that there are somber issues simmering just beneath the surface, and these are elevated — and handled — in mostly satisfying fashion during the third act. Admittedly, some of the film's comic bits come off as arch and artificial — no surprise, considering how many of the participants are involved with such snarky shows as Mash Up and Funny or Die Presents — but for the most part, The Kings of Summer provides summer audiences with the royal treatment.