On the surface, The Kings of Summer may seem like a familiar hybrid of Stand By Me, Moonrise Kingdom and Superbad, but debut feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ and screenwriter Chris Galletta’s tale, of a trio of teenagers who decide to abandon civilisation, and their parents, and go live in the forest, is a wonderful work all of its own.
It perfectly captures the spirit of the summer project – of finding some creative endeavour and dedicating all your free time and energy into something ostensibly inconsequential but ultimately meaning far more to you than anyone could possibly comprehend; in which time would seemingly stretch to infinity until the advent of a new school year would pop your bubble of bliss. Here, beautifully photographed montages of their life in the wilderness appear jumbled, which could just be bad continuity, but reflects the temporal warping of schedule-less summer months. But this isn’t just some over-earnest paean to youthful misbehaviour, for The Kings of Summer is still a comedy, and a very funny one too.
Hilarious from the off (I must have laughed out loud four or five times in the first 10 minutes), the film is filled with brilliant dialogue, with a staggering gag hit rate most mainstream ‘frat-pack’/Apatow offerings fail to achieve, and plenty of familiar faces for comedy nerds. And the situations the group encounter as they attempt to survive in the wilderness are affectionately played as far grander exploits in an adventure of their own making – they trek through the woods, brandishing swords, to Ryan Miller’s magical score that often sounds like it comes from a SNES fantasy RPG. In a way, this sense of adventure reminded me more of The Goonies than anything.
Of course, out of the three ‘Kings’, much focus will be on oddball Biaggio (Moises Arias), who isn’t so much weird as positively alien and certainly gets some of the best and strangest lines, but its Joe (Nick Robinson) and his relationships with his domineering single father (Nick Offerman) and with best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) that really ring true and which serve to ground the more fanciful elements. Robinson is terrific, and carries off everything the story has to throw at him, Basso too, especially when having to deal with his insufferable parents (Megan Mullally and Mark Evan Jackson). But in all fairness, it’s Offerman who makes off with the lion’s share of the scenes – undeniably Swanson-esque, but more of a dishevelled pathetic grouch than Pawnee’s grumpiest government official, his deadpan delivery is a constant joy. Yet none of the humour is at the expense of its genuinely earned emotional moments, making it a well-rounded and wholly satisfying movie like few I’ve seen this year.
Fantastic, refreshing and just damn funny, The Kings of Summer is an absolute treasure.