The Kings of Summer – Review: 7/10
It is not new and it is not groundbreaking but it is charming. We’ve had an outburst of coming-of-age movies recently and for some, The Kings of Summer may be no exception. Suspend your cynicism for a moment and acknowledge the naiveté of three high school friends who don’t know what they want, but just want something different and you will see a little bit of yourself in the movie; the adult reminiscing a forgotten age and the student glimpsing at a fruitless dream.
Jordan Vogt-Robert labels his first feature film as a comedy but it’s a lot more than that. Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are more brothers than high school best friends, each living in homes that are either too broken or superficial for their liking. Tensions rise between Joe and his overbearing father (Nick Offerman) over a game of Monopoly, and Joe sadistically calls the police claiming physical abuse. It’s dark but amusing, and as the movie progresses, you realize his father is not intentionally doing anything wrong. Fed up, Joe decides to run away from home with Patrick, who similarly is faced with intrusive but well-meaning parents, into the woods to literally build a new home for themselves. There is actually nothing wrong with either of the two families, but the existential truth that Vogt-Robert is going towards is that teenagers are looking for more than freedom; they want meaning in their lives. Joined by an eccentric and odd peer Biaggio (Moises Arias), the three venture out and build a scrappy wooden house, move in, and tell no one about it. Naturally, the community assumes they have been kidnapped, and Joe’s father is ridden with guilt. In a moment of vulnerability, he says, “I think I’ve broken my son.”
Meanwhile, we come to know of Joe’s crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty), who he invites to their cabin for a housewarming party. Unfortunately for him, she is more interested in Patrick, who as a masculine, well-built wrestler, captures her attention and consequently ignites Joe’s jealousy. The high school crush is part of every quintessential teenage movie, but unlike most, The Kings of Summer doesn’t try to hide the reality of unrequited attraction or love or whatever you want to call it. This is high school after all, and Kelly is the pretty girl that the good-looking and a little too good-natured guy likes, but is too afraid to admit until it’s too late. It is here that the movie borders on cliché but avoids full-blown banality by making sharp observations about teenage identity and what it means to be a suave and “cool” (teenage) man.
There are some great messages in the film and the viewer is not hard-pressed to find them. And while the latter half of the movie is darker, Biaggio does well bringing in the comedic elements that make this movie a comedy to begin with. While most of the time the jokes only warrant a smile, there are some legitimately funny scenes that are tinged with profundity involving Biaggio, who at one point questions his sexuality and says, “I don’t see myself as having a gender.”
Vogt-Roberts’ direction is simple and at times, beautiful. One of the best scenes in the movie is an almost random shot with Patrick sitting in the woods and playing his violin. It is elegant and the scenery is fitting of the moment–the three men questioning their roles in life and once again, hopelessly trying to find an identity in a world that is moving faster than they want. The sequences of the boys building their house are emotional and appealing and the music is fantastic; it strikes a good balance between mainstream and indie, as the moment requires of it. The Kings of Summer will be dismissed as a summer fling, but it is a little more than that. It is like what Kelly is to Joe: forgettable in the grand scheme of things, but still beautiful in the moment.