The Kings of Summer (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Kings of Summer (2013)

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The Kings of DancingKyleLikeNewThe Kings of Summer is so good not just because it understands the conventions of its genre and employs them in a very pure way, but also because it holds its audience high enough not to pretend we're seeing anything it's showing us for the first time. It's a perfect testament to how every movie need not necessarily break new ground if it treads old ones in a supremely satisfying way. It may also be a testament to the incredible power of movie marketing (in this case negative power) that this one isn't a huge hit right now.

As coming-of-age stories go, The Kings of Summer seems pulled right out of the movies and young adult fiction we're all familiar with. Three high school freshmen—two best friends and a small, strange, hilarious clinger-on who they meet randomly and seamlessly inserts himself into their lives—decide to escape their parents and “unbearable” home lives by running away and constructing a crude house of their own in the woods where they will live on their own for the summer.

These kings build a wonderful, isolated castle for themselves.

These kings build a wonderful, isolated castle for themselves.

That the parents aren't especially oppressive, and are at worst human, damaged, and comically weird, is a strength of the movie. The boys' motives are obviously childish, but first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (who will be someone to keep an eye out for) does a wonderful job of conveying the very necessary sense of freedom and authority they need to feel without creating reasons that seem melodramatic or contrived. In a handful of scenes a little more artful and impressionistic that we sometimes see in movies like these, he manages to convey the thrilling and exciting new world the boys think they've created for themselves.

Nick Offerman is good here as the father of one of the boys who, despite being a bit hard on those around him after the death of his wife, is a good and understanding person at heart. Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson are also fantastic embodying, perhaps too literally, how every teenager thinks their parents will somehow manage to literally kill them via embarrassment.

The young actors who play the three boys (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias) are especially good, and they support all the other strengths of the movie. The eventual conflicts that arise are not surprising or original—they should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a movie or read a book about young people in the process of growing up (or had a childhood). But The Kings of Summer doesn't just go through the familiar motions—all of it seems real in precisely the way it needs to be. Not cinéma vérité real, but genuine. You identify with the emotional turmoil even as the events on-screen are sometimes a bit too convenient (which is ok, because it's just a movie).

Offerman makes a great papa bear.

Offerman makes a great papa bear.

The one drawback here—and the only sign that Vogt-Roberts is a first-time director—is that the tone is uneven throughout. There are moments where the comedy seems like it's creeping over into a more ridiculous universe than the rest of the movie exists in. If these sections weren't also very funny on their own, this would be more of a problem—as it is, they're distracting, but minimally so. Some of these concern the almost-too-weird-but-not-quite character of Biaggio, the third of the boys, who seems to be perpetually viewing the world through a different lens than the others and who volunteers up suggestions such as, when they're attempting to hunt for food, “Maybe we should disillusion him—a bear who believes in nothing will be easier to take down.”

There are also deliberate inconsistencies, moments where the film breaks distinctly from the boys' fantasy summer world either to highlight the need for such an escape or to poke fun at their naiveté. One great scene has them delivering speeches about how they are now completely independent, responsible for their own shelter and food, triumphantly climbing a hill to hunt the wild game they expect to encounter at the top only to find themselves next to a freeway opposite a Boston Market.

This is an ideal 4th of July weekend movie, or summer movie, or really anytime movie. I know I'll watch it again when it comes out on DVD just for the sheer pleasure of it, and I don't often feel like that coming out of the theater. With summer dominated by blockbusters that so often demand your attention for 2 ½ bloated hours before fading off into I'll-Never-Think-About-That-Movie-Againland, it's nice to find one that will stick.

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Kings of Summer - TailKings of Summer (2013)

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Screenplay written by Chris Galletta.
Starring Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias.

Posted by Kyle Miner

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