'The Kings of Summer'

The new film The Kings of Summer offers a fairly run-of-the-mill ‘coming of age’ plot, but its intelligent, witty dialogue and eccentric characters make it a very enjoyable summertime movie experience; especially if you are looking for cinema entertainment beyond the current crop of superheroes and car crashes.

The Kings of Summer is the first feature film for director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who has quite an extensive television resume that includes the shows Single Dads and Death Valley. His feature debut, which is brilliantly written by Chris Galletta, is an impressive first effort and is a lot of quirky fun.

Friends Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) have just finished their freshman year of high school and they are both tired of their parent’s rules and restrictions. Joe’s father (Nick Offerman) is a widow and is taking his loneliness out on his son, while Patrick’s parents just seem to be slightly crazy. Both of the teenagers are basically good kids, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for their parents.

After an incident at an end-of-school party, a very strange, impish kid, named Biaggio (Moises Arias), just begins following Joe & Patrick and the three teenagers decide that they will build a house in the woods and live in it in order to get away from their controlling parents.

The trio takes tools and money from their parents and they use discarded wood and other junk pieces they find at construction sites in order to build their makeshift shanty house in the forest. Once completed, they runaway to their new home and leave their parents panicked, not knowing where their kids are for the better part of the summer.

The kids soon discover that their actual survival skills are lacking and they must resort to buying chicken from a local fast-food restaurant in order to keep from starving. Nevertheless, they have a great time living a life of relative freedom until Joe brings his high-school crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) into the picture, and she has a “Yoko Ono” like effect on the trio, breaking them up and leaving Joe completely on his own in the woods.

The cast in this film is marvelous and with the exception of Mary Lynn Rajskub (24), who plays a small role as a local police officer, the rest of the actors were all unknown to me. Far and away, though, the standout performance in The Kings of Summer is Moises Arias as Biaggio, who hilariously steals every scene he is in and is the best reason to see this movie. He is perfectly cast in this very well written role, and though I know it is highly unlikely, he should be a contender for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar when Academy Award time rolls around next year.

I grew up in the White Mountains of Arizona where my home was literally right on the border of a vast forest, so I’ve built my share of secret forts in the woods and I could easily relate to the kids in this film. The Kings of Summer realistically portrays the freedom that comes with being hidden from the sight and stipulations of the adult world, and the responsibilities that inevitably follow that freedom.

Although this film has some minor technical flaws (like one edit in particular that seemed to come out of left field, making me think that a film reel was skipped), The Kings of Summer is a very entertaining, heart-warming and funny film. Grade: 7.5/10

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