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KINGS OF SUMMER (review)

Review by Caitlyn Thompson
Produced by Tyler Davidson, B. Ted Deiker, 
John Hodges, Eric Hollenbeck, Allan Marks, 
Michael Razewski, Richard Rothfeld, 
Robert Ruggeri, Peter Saraf, Susan Wasserman
Written by Chris Galletta
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring Nick Robinson, Moises Arias, Gabriel Basso, 
Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, 
Marc Evan Jackson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Erin Moriarty

CBS Films / Rated R

As far as coming-of-age films go, The Kings of Summer is authentic and funny without being overly dramatic or trite.

It’s a unique story of three teenage boys who decide that the only hope for independence from their overbearing parents is to run away and build/live in a house completely secluded in the woods.

Luckily it’s not too far from a Boston Market.

The first character we meet is Joe, played adorably (I can’t quite say totally sexy because he’s young and I’m old…er) by Nick Robinson.

Joe, rattled with teen angst and hormones, is emotionally beat down by his insensitive and not-so-nurturing widowed father, Frank, played as a sympathetically sarcastic brute by Nick Offerman. Their frustration ranges from near silent fury in the first scene when Frank interrupts (and ruins) Joe’s long shower, to shouting, chasing, and a cop call after a dick move during a Monopoly game. We understand Frank and Joe quickly and their chemistry is tangible, tragic, and hilarious.

The second character with a phenomenally awkward parental duo (Megan Mullally and Mark Evan Jackson) is Joe’s best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso).

Unlike Joe, he deals with his parents’ smothering oddities by gritting his teeth and bearing it. Patrick is a far more sensitive character and by no means the usual sidekick cast in coming-of-age movies. While his parents’ worrisome and overbearing tendencies are insufferable, clearly the caution has made Patrick an independent, kind hearted, and very aware young man. He may go along with Joe’s perpetual shenanigans, but he offers responsibility and maturity that sets him apart as incredibly independent. Kudos to Basso for doing a tremendous job.

Then meet Biaggio, played superbly by Moises Arias – he’s the weird kid.

Arias’ presence in the film appears to be purely for comedic relief when actually his role brings in the grand theme of friends-sticking-together. Biaggio doesn’t exclaim over bad parenting, he is around because Joe and Patrick accept him where clearly no other peers have. It’s a beautifully subtle addition to the film that I think could be overlooked because of the character’s totally out-there non-sequiturs. But it shouldn’t be. He’s funny without being too ridiculous and brings the film back to friendship instead of focusing on two teens whining about parents.

Now when kids run away there tends to be dramatic moments with corny lines of exposition but Kings of Summer doesn’t do this. The boys really get to be Kings. Of course paradise does not last forever (enter female love interest), but it never turns into a sappy sobfest. Inevitably, conflict develops between Nick and Joe. Joe’s need to be the alpha male along with Nick’s passivity is fun to watch especially with their itty bitty bits of stubble. I was thankful that the movie never became too bromantic or bogged down in expository melodrama.

While Offerman and Mullally carry the awkward and awfully smothering scenes, Allison Brie has a great role as Joe’s older sister. Being older, not living at home, having a silly boyfriend who tries exquisitely too hard to make Offerman smile, she has a fierceness that is not to be forgotten. Joe longs for her support but she is clearly glad to not be the subject of their father’s wrath and so keeps a healthy distance when they hash it out. She can’t be penetrated by her father’s misery and lets him know this without skipping a beat. Brie is a wonderful addition to the film. She provides hope that eventually teens do develop some semblance of control over their lives.

The art direction of Kings of Summer was gorgeous. Shot largely outdoors with amazing dusk sunlight it felt wonderfully summery and made me want to be outside (perhaps with some mosquito repellent though). Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives a very nostalgic presentation. He really captures the freedom of a responsibility-free summer, where days meld together and time loses meaning.
The soundtrack is worth noting as well – ebbing between young pop, outdoorsy “feel-free” tunes and several mischievous Nintendo mashups that add a child-like innocence and excitement to the film.

Thumbs up for The Kings of Summer. They were. Amidst typical pining for independence they may or may not be ready for, the two main boys embody accurately typical male responses to conflict – aggression or withdrawal – and they perform well. The story is relatable, funny, and well worth a watch this season.

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