The Kings of Summer

Running away from it all

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Have you ever just wanted to run away from it all?

Then you might just relate to The Kings of Summer, an unconventional coming-of-age story that’s likely to appeal to the rebellious teen in all of us.

With his mom deceased and his sister married and gone, Joe is stuck at home with his emotionally repressed father.

“Masturbation is fun. I get it. But it’s not ‘green’ to do it with the shower running,” Frank grouches through a locked bathroom door.

Patrick’s parents are so kooky, they’re giving him hives.

“My mom won’t let me walk through the house without my socks on,” bemoans Patrick, though that seems the least of his Stepford folks’ varied eccentricities.

Biaggio, well, we’re not quite sure what his issues at home are. The script by Chris Galletta gives his personal life rather short shrift. That’s somewhat understandable because the story centers on the long-standing bosom buddyhood of Joe and Patrick, which is tested not surprisingly by a girl, Kelly, that they both long for.

Joe hatches a plan to build a home away from home in the woods on the outskirts of small-town Tottenville. There’s a bit of Gilligan’s Island syndrome here—as in “where did they get all this stuff?”—though we know the ramshackle but capacious edifice’s front door comes from a construction site port-a-pottie.

Though Joe has studied a manual on how to live off the land and there are a few lame efforts to have nature provide sustenance, the three boys mostly live on fast-food chicken funded by a bankroll filched from Joe’s dad.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives us plenty of idyllic, carefree summertime moments, conjuring up comparisons to teen buddy films of the past such as Breaking Away or Stand by Me.

Vogt-Roberts has also assembled an engaging cast of young people, bolstered by some great comic performances from the older folks, most notably Nick Offerman, hewing closely to the gruff and wry Ron Swanson character he plays on Parks and Recreation.

Likewise, Megan Mullally channels quite a bit of her Karen Walker character from Will and Grace, minus the booze, pills and self-involvement, as Patrick’s mom. Both actors energize the story in every frame they’re in.

Nick Robinson carries the lion’s share of the load as Joe, imbuing his performance with an appealing combination of guile and vulnerability. Gabriel Basso is also fine in the slightly secondary role of Patrick.

Moises Arias’s Biaggio is an imp of a young man who speaks in non-sequiturs. It’s a character clearly intended to be the comic relief and though he’s a little ill-defined—other than being downright batty—Arias manages to make him disconcerting but likeable (and hilarious).

At times, the script does seem rather too self-consciously loopy, so it’s left to the cast to make it succeed and they do. In less capable hands, it could have been a rather tiresome mess.

And though the story is mostly played for laughs, there are a couple of moments at the end that are subtle yet rich in emotional resonance.

Minor misgivings aside, The Kings of Summer is likely to endure as a charming summer frolic that can be shared and enjoyed by those on both sides of the generation gap.

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