The Kings Of Summer


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

The Kings Of Summer
"A sweet and relatable film with an evocative setting, ultimately very hard to dislike."

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of the short Successful Alcoholics, which screened at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, returns with a feature film debut that sees a group of angst-addled American teenagers in suburban Ohio set out into the wilderness in a retreat-from-civilisation odyssey. But whereas films like Into The Wild and Stand By Me took their searching, yearning protagonists into dark psychological and physical terrain as they fled the comforts of suburbia, Vogt-Roberts keeps things fast, light and goofy. It's a sweet and relatable film with an evocative setting, ultimately very hard to dislike, though it would be a stretch to say that the script, by Chris Galletta, pushes any boundaries or mines great depths of the teen mind.

The would-be adventurers are led by Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), whose smart-ass attitude and impulsiveness are causing him to butt up against his widowed father Frank (Nick Offerman, relishing the chance to deploy his arsenal of deadpan one-liners and put-downs). Joe's wrestler buddy from school, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), is hardly doing any better, his weird parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) being the dictionary definition of overbearing. All Joe wants is a chance to discover what it is like to be a real man without the inconvenience of being grounded or having to endure his Dad's insistence that they keep with the board game night tradition. Something has got to give.

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When he and Patrick stumble across a secluded forest glade after a late night party, Joe sees their chance for freedom. On the spot, he declares that they will build a house there, where they can learn to become real men free from parental meddling. Joining them is tag-along comrade and non-sequitur dispenser Biaggio (Moises Arias). Despite the mismatch between the three and their utter lack of bush skills, the trio scavenge enough junk, from tyres to portable loo doors, to build the kind of ramshackle wood cabin that will probably bring a smile to the face of any adult viewer who long ago dreamed of his own secret forest fort. The finely detailed hideaway, in its evocatively-shot lush surroundings, is the film's production highlight.

At first, a kind of harmony emerges. The cabin holds together. Patrick takes on the role of the hunter while Joe and Biagoio forage for food. But their attempts to find sustenance soon devolve to stealing chicken from the nearby Boston Market, as they can't set a trap or batter a trapped animal to death to save their lives. And when the boys invite beautiful classmate Kelly (Erin Moriarty) to join them, the fact that she ignores Joe's obvious teen crush and falls for Patrick instead begins to tear the trio apart.

If there are any flaws in this good-natured flick, its that the script sometimes turns the dial up too much on the quirk factor - most notably with the inclusion of the unbelievably eccentric Biaggio, who says almost nothing that makes any sense. Despite the essential unbelievability of the plot, the performance just feels out of sync. The beats of conflict, harsh life-lessons and ultimate resolution for the three main characters are also quite predictable. Nevertheless, the cast are otherwise good, with Offerman firing on all cylinders in the supporting role, and the young actors generally doing well to portray the heady mix of rebellion, street smarts and jealousy that their still-developing minds are burdened with.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2013
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Three teenagers decide to build a fort and live wild.
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Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writer: Chris Galletta

Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie

Year: 2013

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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