Title: The Kings of Summer
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenwriters: Chris Galletta
Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias
The Kings of Summer, an affable quasi-fantasy coming-of-ager, has a nice feel for the frustration of adolescence — when the world has teamed up against you, adults talk nothing but oblivious nonsense, the smallest slight is a grave offense, and “independence” seems like the greatest thing in the world. It’s a film about three young teen boys who essentially construct a tree fort in the woods, except that it deliberately stretches the bounds of what that would realistically look like: the fort is a house, with a mailbox and bunk beds, and our heroes run away from home and live there, living off the land (with occasional resort to a nearby Boston Market) and triggering a parental manhunt.
Not much happens. The movie is an exaggerated conception of the sort of self-motivated “adventure” a group of boys might have in the woods by the highway behind their suburban neighborhood. They grow stubble, bond, have fun, and blow the experience out of proportion. There’s a girl, and ultimately the realization that they’ve fundamentally misconceived the nature of the stuff they’re running away from. Independence, it turns out, is kind of overrated.
The film is sun-drenched and leisurely, paced like a lazy summer day. There’s a lot to like about it, including the two lead performances by Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso, who have the easy vibe of kids who’ve grown up together; the film cares about their friendship, and ends on a casual moment of reconciliation that rings heartrendingly true. My problem lies with the movie’s attempt to strain for a Napoleon Dynamite-like quirky distinctiveness, embodied in the occasional weird standalone vignette and in the character of Biaggio (Moises Arias), the birdlike third wheel to our two heroes. The Kings of Summer knows how to be funny (watch for a scene where Basso insists on waiting for an omen before relocating to the fort), but it can also be a bit too studiedly random, e.g. in generating Biaggio’s vaguely creepy non sequiturs (“I once met a dog; it taught me how to die”) and in indulging long digressions about giant wontons and avocado meat. (You kind of have to be there.) It’s a fine debut that sometimes feels like it’s reaching for a marketing hook.
— Eugene Novikov