Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer is one of the most touching and profound coming of age comedies to have ever been made because it carefully balances The Hangover style comedy, with the camaraderie of Stand By Me and the intelligence of Juno. This is a film, which on paper isn’t made for anyone; is it for adults to reminisce about when they were kids or is it for kids to fantasise about what could happen to them if they ran away? Or perhaps Vogt-Roberts has created a film, which is for everyone and how you react to the story is ultimately personal to where you are in your life – now how many comedies can do that?
The Kings of Summer follows Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) who lives at home with his dad, Frank (the outrageously funny Nick Offerman) but is finding more and more that he wishes to be somewhere else than here. His sister, Heather (Alison Brie) does come and visit and in one of the most heartfelt scenes, he asks his sister to take him away. Although she replies back in a sarcastic manner about their father wanting to visit them, you can see in Joe’s eyes that he completely means what he is saying and really doesn’t want to be with his father anymore. Frank simply does not mince his words and although he has the funniest lines in the film, he also pushes his family away at several points throughout and you understand why they think he is, at times, a bastard.
Joe’s best friend, Patrick Keenan (The Big C’s Gabriel Basso), lives at home with his hugely overbearing and somewhat judgemental parents played by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson. He finds them embarrassing and his relationship is constrained to a point because Patrick fulfils many of the teenage stereotypes of being filled with angst against your parents and wanting to get away from them and proving how manly you are. But to the audience, his parents are hilarious and I mean truly hysterical. Their biggest issues concern what they are going to eat and they wonder, lovingly, why Patrick is wearing his blue shirt instead of any other.
Things become too much over a make shift family dinner when Frank decides to bring home another woman, Joe walks out and here hatches a plan to get himself and Patrick away for good. He runs through a space in the nearby forest when he is escaping from a party, which he was invited to by Kelly (Erin Moriarty). This space is open and beautiful and Joe feels at one with nature and the animals around him. He, like the animals, wants to escape and roam free to do whatever he wishes to do. Of course, he doesn’t realise his responsibilities and societal rules placed upon him because he is a human, but sure, why not live like the animals?
He designs a house built from whatever materials they can find along the way and together with Patrick and another boy called Biaggio (Moises Arias) who tags along with them, they decide to build their house. The building sequence is so stunningly positive and allows the older members of the audience to reminisce upon things they may have done with their friends when they were growing up. Vogt-Roberts is really careful not to allow his film to descend into cheesiness, which could very well have happened but instead makes the film much more internal and emotional. He concentrates on how Joe and Patrick actually feel and how they intend to survive cutting themselves off from the rest of the world, they have come to dislike so much.
Biaggio is an interesting character to look at in The Kings of Summer because we learn nothing about him, he is both one of the funniest but also the weakest of the characters because he has no background. We don’t know where he has come from and why he ends up in the forest with Joe and Patrick, but we learn very quickly not to question him, just as the boys on screen learn to as well. He is truly odd and seems to fulfil the ‘McLovin’ type character, which now forever will exist amongst these sort of friendship groups in films. He says many things throughout that you just don’t understand like he confuses being gay with having cystic fibrosis but at the end of the day, he just wants to have an adventure as much as the other two and be their friends.
About three quarters into the film, when things have been going swimmingly and the trio have got a good routine of working and living together in the forest, Kelly returns to the film and she marks a dramatic peak. Although the parents have wondered where they have gone, the police has assured them that they have simply run away and they are probably okay. There doesn’t seem to be too much trauma their end and if anything Frank lightens up the show; on wondering whether they have been taken, Frank assures Mrs Keenan that they certainly have been taken, along with all the canned goods in their houses. He is dry and dark and deadly sarcastic.
When Kelly returns to the film, she brings along some friends and they stay in the house with the boys. Joe, we learn very quickly, has feelings for Kelly and thinks she is the only thing that is missing in his new life. When she starts to develop a relationship with Patrick, Joe becomes jealous and angry at his best friend – how could he do this to him? Then like a typical formula, they fight, they spend time alone, drama occurs and they reconcile at the end but despite the obviousness of the story, there isn’t one moment when you find yourself bored. Not only is the story heartfelt and warming, but the characters and the actors that play them are endearing and so wonderful to watch. The lead up to the final showdown is so entrancing that you don’t mind the slight obviousness of it all, you are still on the edge of your seat intriguing to know what is going to happen to these characters.
Nick Robinson in particular is a bright young star to watch out for in the future; he is handsome and very watchable on screen. But more than his looks, he is emotionally compelling and although some of his actions are childish and silly, you forgive him for this because they are coming from a place, which is fuelled by an urge for something better. He may be acting out but who cares because he just wants peace and tranquility in his life and if he can recognise that at the age of 15, he is probably better and more aware than most adults.
The Kings of Summer is a film for everyone, whatever your age or gender. It’s a sweet hearted film with a very big and important message; be happy, do what makes you smile and remember to make the most of those around you because they are the most important.
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