The Kings of Summer
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Joe Toy, on the verge of adolescence, finds himself increasingly frustrated by his single father, Frank's attempts to manage his life. Declaring his freedom once and for all, he escapes to a clearing in the woods with his best friend, Patrick, and a strange kid named Biaggio. He announces that they are going to build a house there, free from responsibility and parents. Once their makeshift abode is finished, the three young men find themselves masters of their own destiny, alone in the woods.
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★★★★ review by adrianbalboa on Letterboxd
“are you sure?”
“yeah. my lungs fill up with fluids every time the seasons change”
“...that’s not being gay im pretty sure that’s cystic fibrosis”
i love three (3) boys
★★★½ review by Mary Conti on Letterboxd
Features the most accurate depiction of a game of Monopoly.
★★★★ review by DirkH on Letterboxd
This year has given me two absolutely wonderful viewing experiences, both centred around a classic coming of age tale. Mud took the serious route and The Kings of Summer the emphatic and comedic one. Different films with at their centre a similar heart. And I love them both equally.
The most impressive thing about The Kings of Summer is that it manages to capture the magic and problems of childhood in such a way that it never feels like it's manipulating you with cheap sentiment. It is an honest film, that finds its drama in small moments and its humour in playful absurdity and witty dialogue.
The story is the perfect for exploring the central themes of friendship, family and growing up. The three boys who decide to build their own house in the middle of the woods all have their reasons do so. As an adult I can look at them and see their youthful folly, but I also clearly remember, probably not unlike you who are reading this, that at some point during my puberty I was ready to pack my bags and leave for whatever reason. It is that universal sentiment and fantasy that gets played out here and that is, for me, where most of its appeal comes from. We also get to see the other side of the coin, the parents. What works so well is the way the script is structured. Both sides stay lighthearted in the beginning, but they slowly both veer into more serious waters making how the story unfolds a really engaging experience. It's not that the script doesn't have its problems as it relies on contrivance one time too many, but those are minor quibbles as the overall quality is excellent.
I have to single out the dialogue. The conversations these kids have feel genuine, Biaggio's bizarre utterings are hilarious, Patrick's parent are freakishly scary in how they interact, but the absolute best lines belong to Nick Offerman who plays Joe's dad. His dead pan delivery is simply sublime.
I love the fact that films with themes like this keep getting made. They appeal to my nostalgic self, allowing me a view through a window to a romanticized childhood that could have been mine. The Kings of Summer is magical realism at its most literal in that it captures the ethereal qualities of nostalgia and combines it with real problems without sentimentality. The fact that it does this so well is an admirable achievement.
★★★★½ review by Katie on Letterboxd
i was sweating from the undeniable sexual tension between joe and patrick.
★★★★ review by Kevin Wight on Letterboxd
Ah, the Summers of my youth. When the weeks stretched languorously before me like the naked women in my dreams, and all seemed possible and achievable. The world was my oyster and I could be the master of my destiny - as long as I was home for tea time and I took my shoes off before I came back in the house.
The Kings of Summer captures that feeling brilliantly, except the Ohio setting is far sunnier, more exotic and a bit more wooded than the Scottish Borders. Someone would have noticed if I'd built a makeshift bothy in the middle of some arable farmland, and I doubt the farmers would have liked me hunting their cattle. And on one of the rare occasions that we went jumping into lakes, someone put their foot through a dead sheep that was on the bottom, and we didn't really want to do it again after that.
What I'm trying to say is that Jordan Vogt-Roberts' debut feature is a perfect depiction of youth that doesn't exist and never existed. It starts as a witty, warm and charming coming-of-age tale of three young lads that escape their overbearing parents and take off to live in the woods. The dialogue sparkles, and there is an idyllic haze to their antics. The fact that it has a contemporary setting also avoids the more obvious leaning towards nostalgia or elegy that the likes of Stand By Me have. Nothing wrong with that, but there is a freshness to The Kings of Summer that really resonates with me.
It isn't perfect - the adults are more entertaining characters to be around than the ostensible protagonists (perhaps because the concerns of teenage boys are fairly one-dimensional when you get right down to it), particularly Nick Offerman as Frank, the gloriously acerbic single dad of Nick Robinson's Joe, the lead tearaway. The character of Biaggio, the strange scrawny kid made of ears and non-sequiturs, risks being jarring and overly weird, although he is very funny.
It also lacks a sense of weight when viewed next to the other excellent coming-of-age tale from last year, Mud. That movie mined a rich vein of portentousness and American Gothic that is completely missing here. There is no sense of real peril, and the film becomes a little bogged down by the end as it takes a more serious turn, the whimsy of the first half not setting this up efficiently enough.
Having said that, there is more than enough here to revel in, beyond cosy wish-fulfillment. The performances are uniformly great; the main cast's background in various sitcoms coming to the fore as they handle the dialogue with aplomb. The cinematography is crisp and finds the nuances in all that greenery. The soundtrack completely works as well - the music is fairly spare, but works seamlessly with the onscreen action.
A little gem of a debut feature, The Kings of Summer is a wistful, funny and soulful film that runs in and steals your heart in the nicest possible way.
Also - Alison Brie.
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