THE KINGS OF SUMMER refreshes the comedic climate with huge laughs and original style. This vibrant, coming-of-age comedy chronicles three teen friends on the verge of manhood as they take part in the kind of epic adventure that can only come out of a high school summer break.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is frustrated with almost-normal life after his mother’s death, pent up with his sarcastic, governing father (Nick Offerman), and awkwardly floating between childhood and adulthood. Here’s a kid who isn’t content to simply come out of his shell during summer break, he’s coming out swinging – crushing the damn shell under his boot, declared a man worthy of manhood. His plan? Run away, build a house in the woods, and survive off the land.
He brings along his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) who is equally frustrated with his parents (although his reasons have to do with their extreme and hilarious over-affection). Also tagging along is Biaggio (Moises Arias) – a strange but lovable weirdo, and a total wildcard. Together, they declare themselves free of suburban responsibility and parental guidance. At least that’s the idea at first.
What gets in the way? Well, there is of course a story involving a girl (Erin Moriarty) and the flirtatious triangle that develops. What’s shocking is that this romantic subplot is handled with distinct tact. The relationship that evolves between best friends Joe and Patrick and the girl that comes between them takes place largely in looks. Looks of lust, of jealousy, and of sadness. In contrast to similar films’ over-the-top set pieces in the romantic department, THE KINGS OF SUMMER is a blessing to the genre.
While the boys are out in the woods, nature comes into play in beautifully unexpected ways through cinematographer Ross Riege’s lyrical inserts. The visual style overall is fantastical without reaching the level of glossy magic that would discredit such an honest story. It’s a fairy tale from a lost childhood we all can imagine having. The boys actually build a substantial home out of scrap metal and spare parts – complete with a mailbox that serves no use and a porta-potty front door. I love that director Jordan Vogt Roberts “goes for it” in this way – casting realism to the side in exchange for a film that is confident in it’s own idiosyncrasies.
In fact, confidence permeates much of the technical force of the film. Unknown actors play the three boys, and it is a testament to the quality of the screenplay that they are able to go toe-to-toe with comedy heavyweights Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally. While Offerman garners the most frequent and loudest laughs with his effortlessly dry wit, Moises Arias as Biaggio brings the comedy to insane, goofy places that actually really work. I never thought I’d laugh this hard again at such a stupid character post-NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE.
The only thing standing in the way of perfection is a final act slightly weaker than what comes before. After such originality, it ends on rather conventional notes. Still, this ending did not hold back the most enthusiastic audience response that I have ever witnessed in a theater.
THE KINGS OF SUMMER made some of the most noise at Sundance US and London, and for good reason. It is a consistently hilarious, dramatically grounded comedy legitimized with original writing and exceptional technical craft.
Review: The Kings of Summer