July 14, 2013
The Kings of Summer
And then there's The Kings of Summer, which is intent on transcending its youthful characters' problems. Yes, their parents are obtuse, even unfeeling, but the film wants to explore how they deal with their problems, not how they wallow in them. The boys, Joe, Patrick, and Biaggio, are played with comic flair and real vulnerability by Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias, respectively. Joe and Patrick are longtime best friends, and Biaggio is an odd duck who tags along with them, finding acceptance. (Happily, the film doesn't try to paint him as a purely pathetic outcast : he's just different, and that's okay.)
But Joe and Patrick are relatively normal boys. Joe and his father (Nick Offerman, who's so good at being a man's man, and funny) don't get along (they're too much like each other). And with Joe's mother dead and his big sister (Alison Brie) off in college, the one-on-one nature of their relationship is beginning to wear on him. Patrick meanwhile is so stressed out by his dopey, trivial, myopic parents (played with delightful comic overtones by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), that he's constantly breaking out in hives.
Desperate to escape their parents, Joe and Patrick decide to build a house in the woods on the outskirts of their Ohio town. They cobble it together with various discards from construction sites (including a porta-potty door as their front entrance) and whatever else they can find, even incorporating a playground slide as a sort of staircase. It's Robinson Crusoe meets Huck Finn meets Stand By Me.
The Kings of Summer is a beautifully made film, an offbeat tale with wonderfully original comic interactions, but it's also something of a Buddhist at heart. We're meant to feel a kind of unity with nature as we watch these boys throw off the shackles of modern civilization (to a degree) in favor of living off nature. But at the end--you can guess what happens, I won't reveal--we're left with images of the natural inhabitants of the forests: the owls, the snakes, the furry creatures, all of them seemingly saying, "If you're going to play here, you better leave nice-and-easy behind you."
This is a happy and refreshing antidote to the loud and inane summer blockbuster movies. With Erin Moriarty and Mary Lynn Rajskub. Written by Chris Galletta. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. 94 min. ★★★