With The Kings of Summer, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has crafted an original and moving development in the coming-of-age genre. The movie is entertaining from beginning to end, hilarious and poignant, and I think even gives an important commentary on the struggle of self-discovery.
The movie is about three teenage boys who show their independence by building a house in the woods and living there through the summer. It has lots of the hallmarks of a coming-of-age flic, but are freshly interpreted and portrayed. It is not quite the update of Stand By Me you might think it is.
First, it is consistently hilarious throughout, and this is helped especially by the supporting cast. Moises Arias is possibly the greatest gem as their Italian friend, Biaggio. But the adult characters who the boys rebel against are fun to watch, too. They are not simply oppressive Disney Channel caricatures. Nick Offerman plays a single father trying to keep his family together, and he maintains a dry hilarity over his deep-seeded personal sadness. Everybody is complex and vulnerable, and their misunderstanding of each other is mutual.
A cast full of great characters is hard to find, but rarer still is a film with its own distinct voice, and this is that movie. The writing is confident and the visual element is pristine. It is a teenage comedy written with the control of the Coens and shot something like a toned-down Wes Anderson might have. It would still be brilliant if only listened to, and if watched muted it would still carry a heavy emotional weight. This is applaudable.
Beyond the fine characters and distinct-while-understated style, I loved this movie because it felt true. While I certainly never would have, I could easily have had a group of friends who ran off to prove their manhood in the wilderness. Every boy has. And, I think, every boy does something like that. Our society doesn't require rites of passage into manhood anymore, but a boy feels that there should be when he begins to question his place in the world and his standing before his elders. How does he know he is no longer a boy when he feels he is something more? Where is the line? It doesn't seem that there is one. Boys and men are not necessarily two creatures that never meet; the one has shades of the other always in him, and becoming a man is not a full forsaking of the boy.
The Kings of Summer features Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, and is rated R for being kind of languagy throughout.
by Chase Harrison