Title: THE KINGS OF SUMMER
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenwriter: Chris Galletta
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Screened at: Dolby88, NYC, 4/8/13
Opens: May 31, 2013
More Thoreau’s “Walden” than Golding’s “Lord of the Flies,” “The Kings of Summer” could have gotten away with using the tagline for Rob Reiner’s “Stand by Me,” which is: “For some, it’s the last real taste of innocence, and the first real taste of life. But for everyone, it’s the time that memories are made of.” Formerly named “Toy’s House” for the lead character, Joe Toy, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s freshman entry into full-length movies uses plot strictly in service of character, and the characters, both young and middle-aged, are graced by Chris Galleta’s semi-absurdist script with its non-sequiturs, wisecracks and physical comedy. The movie is anchored by a trio of teens, at least two of whom have begun looking upon their parents as aliens to stay away from but who, of course, learn by the conclusion that there’s no place like home.
The home away from home that Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (Moises Arias) have in mind may not have come from their reading of “Walden,” but when people are desperate for change, they are likely to be standing on the shoulders of the giants like Thoreau who have come before them and have tried new ways of living.
Though the teens in the audience may well appreciate this film more than others, there’s a lot to admire from the parents, one of whom, the widowed FrankToy (Nick Offerman) comes across as a bully who grounds his son with a 7:30 p.m. bedtime just when he is making progress with the adorable schoolmate Kelly (Erin Moriarty). Tired of playing monopoly with his dad and his dad’s new squeeze, Joe escapes from his grounding through the window, convincing best friend Patrick to join him in building a house in the woods. As though out of nowhere, Biaggio tags along, the sort of misfit that the two others are not, but he proves agile in modern dance which he hoofs to the tune of the other two drumming on a pipe.
Determined to live on a Paleo diet, which means hunting for their own food, the boys are lucky that a supermarket is not far away, allowing them to buy chickens until later Joe is able to hunt down, strip, and cook an unfortunate rabbit. As though to avenge the killing, the boys—now joined by Kelly—are considered fair game by a venomous snake, the bite leading to a change of pace that sends the rollicking comedy almost into serious denouement. Nor does Kelly’s pairing off with Patrick sit well with a heartbroken Nick, the romantic disappointment serving, like the snake bite, to make Joe realize that you can’t run away from home.
You’ve got to imagine the ingenuity of the trio in building a house, one that could fit in nicely in some poor, overcrowded area of Asia, with a portable john next door. The adventure is one that memories are made of but consider that there’s a limit to what three teens, joined by a few others who have heard of the mission, can do independently when truant officers would be called in to join the local police—who would have found the youths in a day rather than allow them to romp around for a month.
Filmed in Ohio areas Chagrin Falls, Cleveland, and South Pointe Hospital in Warrensville Heights, “The Kings of Summer” features some snazzy effects and an alt-rock soundtrack including some not overused slow-motion photography to illustrate Joe’s murderous dream (his dad falls form a cliff onto the rocks below) and several neat montages.
Unrated. 93 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+