Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Chris Galletta
The period of parental rejection is one most all of us go through at one point or another in our childhood. That point where their love and support becomes too much to bear; their care for us becomes too intrusive. How dare they! We all need our privacy, especially when growing up, but for the most part we should all be so fortunate to have a parent or parents who love and support us as much as they do. But in order to cross over into adulthood, we need to disconnect and rebel against their suffocating hugs and their suffocating advice. It is only natural. The “coming-of-age” period in all of our lives is a necessity to realize how much others in our lives truly mean to us. Parents included unfortunately.
So when Joe (Nick Robinson) reaches that age in rural Ohio, he takes the opportunity during summer break to set out on his own and start to make a life for himself, since the love and support of his father Frank (Nick Offerman) falters in his eyes after the passing of his mother. After a troublesome game of Monopoly with Frank, his new girlfriend, and Joe’s sister Heather (Alison Brie), Joe decides that is the final straw, and recruits his friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and the off-kilter Biaggio (Moises Arias) to build a house of their own in the woods, becoming self-supporting men. The project is going smoothly, the trio feeling as free and manly as ever before. Then the introduction of the woman’s touch, romantic interest Kelly (Erin Moriarty) threatens to unravel the whole Walden-esque tranquility and perfection of the Ohio wilderness.
As is often the case with these kinds of films, The Kings of Summer is supported by a cast of veteran actors, pulling the audience into the seats. But the true test of the coming-of-age tale is whether the young, unknown leads are enough to support the core of the narrative. Nick Offerman, Alison Brie and Megan Mullally exist as comic relief, and do a wonderful job, but these kids come through as just as capable. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gets the most of the young men in the lead roles, with believable moments of true friendship and those of contention. It feels mostly natural. Moises Arias steals the show playing the out-there Biaggio, though at times he feels just a bit too far out there. The film is full of jokes from start to finish, chock full of them, and it succeeds on the good majority, making for a light, funny backdrop for the teenage drama. But the film also has the feeling of trying to hard on more than one occasion.
This can be forgiven a film whose core succeeds like The Kings of Summer. A fairly conventional narrative leaves the film in the middle of the pack of the genre, and threatens to bury it if it weren’t for the directorial flourishes that make it work. There is no thematic groundbreaking going on here, but what exists is handled quite steadily. What the film lacks in narrative force, it certainly makes up for in pure heart and charm, which is of course led by the cast. But also complimenting the film are the striking visuals, captured in beautiful rural Ohio. Vogt-Roberts has a fine eye, and a beautiful, curious visual touch throughout. It seemingly hits all of the conventions, including a indie-laden soundtrack, but it does it well, rising to the top of convention, though never quite above it.
Joe and Patrick (Biaggio the eccentric tag-along who wiggles his way into the friendship) originally set out to find manhood, to become men. They never get there, but their growth as men is shown in the form of building a stronger friendship, not by building a house out in the woods and living off the land. Real manhood is not idyllic, as it was in the eyes of these young men. The woman’s touch doesn’t ruin it, it compliments it, even if at times it also complicates it. Kelly serves as a connector between Joe and Patrick in their pursuit of manhood and I think it is important that she becomes a strong female character, not broadly written into making the choices our protagonists want, or need. In the end it is our relationships with others, our friends, when we find a truer sense of self and who we are that adulthood sets in. Being able to bear the responsibility and duty of friendship, that is a man.
*** – Very Good