The Kings of Summer
by Hope Madden
School’s out! With their freshman year behind them, Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) have just the long, suburban Cleveland summer at home with their folks to look forward to. So they split.
The Kings of Summer sidles up alongside Joe and Patrick as they abandon the parents who make them crazy, and strike it out on their own in the woods between the golf course and the Boston Market. There, in the house they build from refuse and port-a-potty doors, they will decide what it means to be men. It’s just the two best friends and nature – and the unsettling, under explained and under developed third wheel, Biaggio (Moisas Arias).
Sundance loved The Kings of Summer, and there is a lot to find appealing. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts captures a leisurely magic in the forest, filling the screen with lovely images that visually underscore the boys’ emotional tumult in a way the script fails to.
Like all good coming of age dramedies, Summer serves up well meaning parents who just don’t understand. Nick Offerman (TV’s Parks and Recreation) excels as Joe’s deeply bitter single dad, and the two actors perform beautifully together. They mine scenes for the kind of tensions that develop only after a lifetime of familial strife.
Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson are a riot as Patrick’s gleefully overprotective sires, but the script begins to show real cracks as the broad (and often very funny) parental comedy bumps up against the lush and delicate indie drama the boys are generating. The parents would fit in Better Off Dead, while the kids lean more Stand By Me – a stylistic mishmash the film never really overcomes.
The film boasts a good number of laugh out loud moments amid the tenderly wrought angst, but the humor masks deeper problems. Comic flashes serve to distract from weaknesses in the script, a fact most evident in the boys’ unusual cabinmate, Biaggio. Not a character at all, he’s a one-dimensional joke opportunity.
Vogt-Roberts keeps proceedings wholesome – a refreshing change for a coming of age indie – and every performance delivers. Kings of Summer offers a sweet, charming summer distraction. It just doesn’t do much more.