After its Arizona premiere a couple of months ago at the Phoenix Film Festival, not to mention its initial premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, the independent film The Kings of Summer received a warm reception, and with good reason; it’s a warm-hearted coming-of-age story that is funny, eccentric, and above all, hugely likable.
Originally titled Toy’s House, The Kings of Summer is the story of three boys – two friends and one genuinely oddball character – who, for different reasons, escape the confines of their suburban homes and build a house in the woods where they spend the summer. Their intention is to live off the land. At one point they even go foraging for food, though a quick trip to a Boston Market found by accident not too far away proves a good enough substitute for a hunt. After all, why rough it when a nicely cooked rotisserie chicken will do just as well?
The trick to enjoying a film as unconventional in its storytelling as The Kings of Summer is to know as little about its plot and its various conflicts as possible and just let everything unfold before you. The film’s offbeat rhythm is born of independent filmmaking but its widescreen, well structured cinematography is rooted in conventional cinema that helps ground the eccentric proceedings. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has talked about his Stanley Kubrick influences and his nod to Terrance Malick. You can even see the occasional moment of Malick in some of the shots, particularly the lyrical glimpse of young Kelly (Erin Moriarty) sitting in a wheat field, looking directly at us as with a dreamy gaze as if we’re witnessing someone’s memory that springs to mind every now and again.
There’s an unconventional feel to the film’s warm sense of humor that is maintained throughout, underlined by the presence of an uninvited guest, a young boy called Biaggio. The two central characters, Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are increasingly frustrated by their home life, which is what sends them packing off to the woods in the first place, but Biaggio (Moises Arias) seems to carry none of the same baggage. He’s there just because he wants to be. In truth, the character doesn’t really make sense, and neither does half the things he says, but he’s a welcome guest, all the same. He’s the kind of character that makes you consistently smile, even if you’re not sure why. When the boys sit around and have a conversation about being gay, Biaggio declares that he’s probably gay because, “… My lungs fill up with fluid.” “That’s cystic fibrosis,” the boys inform him.
Even the behavior of the parents is odd. Young Joe’s father (Nick Offerman) tries to control his son with snarky and sarcastic remarks that make him appear as immature as the son he’s attempting to raise, while Patrick’s parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) behave as though they’re a couple in an SNLparody. “I’m happy to be where my parents are not,” the boy declares.
In order to reach the audience it deserves, the film may havequite an uphill climb to get there, but if any film can do it’s The Kings of Summer. It’s the little film that could.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 93 minutes Overall Rating: 7(out of 10)
For more film and local theatre reviews CLICK HERE to go directly to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.
Just before The Kings of Summer premiered at the Phoenix Film Festival two months ago, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts came by the KEZ studios to discuss the making of the film. To hear an encore performance of the interview with Jordan, click below.
David Appleford is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society and the American Theatre Critics Association
To read more film and theatre reviews, plus navigate through archival material CLICK HERE to go to the David Appleford Film & Theatre Review website.