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The Kings of Summer

Toy's House 2013 | 95 min | R | 2.39:1

The Kings of Summer


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Movie appeal

Coming of age61%



Theatrical release date

 31 May, 2013
 23 August, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from The Kings of Summer Blu-ray

The Kings of Summer Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 6, 2013

There are moments in “The Kings of Summer” that conjure a feeling of pressurized adolescence, where innocence is depleting and parental quarrels turn into all-out war. And there are sequences presented here that resemble an audition tape for the Groundlings. It’s an unevenness that holds the picture low to the ground, despite its effort to come off as a document of juvenile concerns. Actually, there’s little about “The Kings of Summer” that’s consistent, rendering the film irksome in its randomness, finding a few profound windows to the soul before it lurches back into shtick coma mode, trying to come across silly when a more refined dramatic approach would support the intended emotional and nostalgic response.

Joe (Nick Robinson) is an average teenage boy, nursing a crush on unattainable pal Kelly (Erin Moriarty) while locking horns with his widower father, Frank (Nick Offerman), a man who barely contains his contempt for his son and his eldest daughter, Heather (Alison Brie). Ready to escape his life, Joe makes a plan to build a home in the middle of a nearby forest, away from adult supervision, asking pal Patrick (Gabriel Basso) to join him, while uninvited weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias) tags along. Running away from home to manufacture their own paradise, the boys feel freedom for the very first time, a liberation that comes to challenge their friendship as the days pass and Joe’s sense of wonder is gradually washed away. Back at home, Frank and Patrick’s parents, Mr. (Marc Evan Jackson) and Mrs. Keenan (Megan Mullally), assemble to find their children, confronted by their own deficiencies as guardians.

“The Kings of Summer” exists in its own special space of memories and behavior, finding screenwriter Chris Galletta using his own interests to instill Patrick and Joe with decidedly low-fi entertainment needs, watching the boys play “Street Fighter” on a Super Nintendo and generally keep away from the allure of their cell phones. It’s an effort to strip the boys of their modern interests and pare down the tale to one of heartfelt contemplation, following the characters into the wild where they work out issues with supervision and romantic competition as they test their survival skills. It’s not an original plot (Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” touched on the same themes last year), but there’s personality here that’s worth a look, finding Galletta invested in the concerns of the teens, treating their seclusion as an adventure with a healthy coming-of-age angle, while emphasizing their relative youthfulness as the boys stomp around with swords, make the forest their playground, and “hunt” for food (Joe attempts to pass off trips to a nearby Boston Market as fresh kill).

As a dramedy, “The Kings of Summer” has potential, sprinkling some mild weirdness over routine instances of domestic disturbance (a running gag about Monopoly-based manipulations hits an ideal note of mischief). The cast is certainly proficient enough to handle a more subtle bend to the material, yet director Jordan Vogt-Roberts isn’t capable of juggling the needs of the heart and the extremes of comedy, presenting a picture that’s unsteady as it attempts to intensify its improvisational interests, allowing deadly passages of riffing to overwhelm the delicate nature of the feature, altering the atmosphere from something meditative to desperate, with the cast (including Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kumail Nanjani, Hannibal Buress, and Eugene Cordero) feeding like piranha on empty dialogue spaces. It’s tiresome and indulgent, while Arias’s work as Biaggio leans heavily on slapstick that has no place in the film. A former Disney Channel actor, Arias hams it up in a major way, practically winking at the camera as the character’s nuttiness is exposed, turning sections of “The Kings of Summer” into sketch comedy. The tonal swings of the movie nearly cause whiplash, and the effort is sapped by its habitual need to defuse significant moments of reflection with a rudderless jokey attitude.

If there’s anything that Vogt-Roberts absolutely nails, it’s the feeling of summertime on the screen, with lush greenery and magic hour activity helping the effort generate its intended sense of humid abandon, occasionally interrupted by a Malickian editorial template that slips naturalistic visual poetry into the action. “The Kings of Summer” is a good-looking film (shot by the gifted Ross Riege), successfully translating the feel of escape and isolation to the screen. Perhaps the picture is best left on mute, grasping more of the movie’s emotions through body language than its surplus dialogue.

“The Kings of Summer” underwhelms despite its potential, even showing a flash of cruelty as Patrick’s cheery, naïve parents are discounted as a negative influence on the teen’s life. It would’ve been far more interesting to observe Patrick process the couple’s loving glow as a presence that inspires, not a cause for unnatural derision. The same lack of consistency carries over to Joe and Frank, with little screentime provided to feel the full effect of their estrangement, leaving both characters undernourished while Vogt-Roberts tends to slack comedy and repetitive montages. The season is represented perfectly, but everything else about “The Kings of Summer” leaves much to be desired.

Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moisés Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

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