By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
The one thing about teens that hardly ever changes is the fact that they always seek out adulthood way too fast and often find it way too early. The lure of independence, when coming from a seemingly oppressive household, entices, but comes at a high price and with much responsibility. If the desire to escape develops because of problems at home, those problems will always be there and running away only prolongs dealing with them. While these issues sound a bit weighty, they make up the themes of a fun, delightful, and sometimes off beat comedy titled The Kings of Summer. Writer Chris Galleta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts ably root their film with the pains of adolescent-parental relationships and the pursuit of independence and adulthood. They also color these real world matters with amiable main characters and pleasing humor.
Buddies Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso) and their bizarre new friend Biaggio (Moises Arias) can no longer stand living at home with their parents. Joe’s widowed father Frank (Nick Offerman) always acts angry and cold hearted. Patrick has both of his parents (Marc Evan Jackson, Megan Mulally), but their awkward, overbearing ways often leave him feeling suffocated. The idiosyncratic Biaggio doesn’t complain about his home life, but simply seeks out new adventure. The three teens decide to run away during the summer and build a house in the woods to escape their “troubled” lives. However, surviving in the woods is much more difficult than it sounds and with independence comes much responsibility.
As far as coming of age stories go, The Kings of Summer doesn’t bring anything strikingly original to the table, but does have solid character development and a great mix of enjoyable comedy and real life drama. Teens will relate to the issues and problems the characters face, as will parents who have teens. Galletta, Vogt-Roberts and their cast sublimely portray the relationship dynamics of their characters. At times, Patrick’s parents come off as cartoonish, but it does work as a comic device. The cast, especially the young actors, do outstanding work here.
Nick Robinson, of the Melissa & Joey television series proves himself as a talented lead actor. Gabriel Basso, who has already cut his teeth on both television and film (The Big C, Super 8) shows that he has matured as an actor with his portrayal of the frustrated Patrick who needs a break from his helicopter parents, hilariously portrayed by Megan Mulally and Marc Evan Jackson. The break-out star of the film has to be Moises Arias who garners a great share of the laughs as the bizarre and geeky Biaggio. The kid is a natural at comedy and I definitely look forward to seeing more of him on the big screen. Finally, I must acknowledge Nick Offerman who does a fine job portraying the gruff and annoyed Frank, a father who struggles to find a balance between being a disciplinarian and an affectionate parent.
The movie is rated R for strong language and teen alcohol use, but I will recommend this as a film that parents and teens should watch together. The excellent portrayal of teen/parent relationships will certainly offer these demographics food for thought and discussion. The movie does have much to offer adults without children, but I think parents and their teenage offspring will have a greater appreciation for this material.