Tucked in-between giant Summer blockbusters like Star Trek Into Darkness and the upcoming Lone Ranger and World War Z movies, The Kings of Summer slips into theaters this weekend. It may not be the biggest movie, or feature many well-known actors and actresses, but so far, The Kings of Summer is the royalty of 2013.
Coming-of-age movies have been done to death, but the reason we see them over and over is because of their universal appeal. When done well, as this one is, they hit upon nerves and emotions that never grow old.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are best friends who decide to escape their miserable teenage lives - and their off-putting parents - by running away into a nearby forest just as school lets out for the Summer. A strange third wheel appears in the form of Biaggio (Moises Arias), who just kinds of joins them in the forest looking for his own get-away. The three boys build themselves a shelter far away from their former lives, creating a new civilization where they will live off the land, forge their own new rules and finally exist as men should: Relying on their own strengths and without the need of anything from the outside world to crimp their style.
It sounded like a good idea at the time, at least. As the boys settle into their new existence, they find that with great freedom comes great responsibility. Foraging for food, for example, is quite a drag, requiring much more patience than this generation of kid can muster. They wander back onto a highroad and pick up some Boston Market, presenting it back at camp as if they had just found and roasted a live chicken.
The film portions off a bit of time to the parents and we quickly see just how these kids may have been driven to flee. Joe's dad, Frank (Nick Offerman, best known as Ron Swanson from TV's Parks & Recreation), is a gruff single father whose own misery seeps into the lives of his children. For Patrick, his loving parents, Mr. & Mrs. Keenan (Megan Mullaly and Mark Evan Jackson), are over-bearing and out-of-touch, the sort of uncool parents that make lame jokes and cause young eyes to roll in embarrassment. With their kids missing, the Keenans figure they may have been kidnapped. Frank dryly points out that yes, these kidnappers also took with them most of the canned goods from the pantry.
Of course, at the heart of any teenage movie, there is a girl. Kelly (Erin Moriarty) is the obsession of Joe, but like in many movies, she's currently dating some school loser. Girls always seem to get in the way and when Kelly is invited to their secret fortress, the boys' sacred world begins to crumble beneath them.
In his first movie role, young Nick Robinson has a demanding on-screen presence and is at the center of the film's story. But it is the surprisingly layered performance of Nick Offerman that really provides weight to the father/son relationship that anchors the movie.
As hilarious as this movie is - and it is quite funny - it also makes many sly observations about growing up, family and happiness. It carries with it the quirkiness of an independent film but the confidence of a Summer blockbuster. In running away from what he perceives to be the one thing holding him back - his father - we as an audience discover that Joe has not fallen too far from the tree. It's in how the film handles it's characters and their self-discoveries, that sets The Kings of Summer apart from other coming-of-age films.
Here is a movie that is smart and believes that it's audience is too. Familiar elements and plot developments go against our seasoned expectations. Characters connect with simple looks or gestures rather than by soliloquy. We know when characters are sorry without hearing them apologize.
The Kings of Summer builds upon familiar foundations of teenage angst and romance and in doing so, it has created one of the most enjoyable, immersive films of the year.
Run Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Erin Moriarty, Megan Mullaly, Mark Evan Jackson, Alison Brie, Eugene Cordero
Written by Chris Galletta (debut)
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (feature-film debut, director of Single Dads, Funny or Die Presents...)
Opens locally on Friday, June 7, 2013
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