Mark Reviews Movies

The Kings of Summer


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Erin Moriarty, Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson, Alison Brie

MPAA Rating: R (for language and some teen drinking)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 5/31/13 (limited); 6/7/13 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 7, 2013

The Kings of Summer is perhaps too caught up in the freedom of adolescence. The movie's spirit is in the right place with its anything-goes attitude of random adventures, portrayals of dreamy fantasies about young love, and general teenage rebellion against whatever is currently in front of its protagonist.

His father wants the kid to participate in a family game night with his dad's new girlfriend? Surely, this is an affront to him, as he simply wants to go out to an end-of-the-school-year party so he can spend a little time with his crush. It's time to call the cops and lie that his father has stolen something or other. Dear old dad takes the phone away from the boy when he's talking with the girls he likes, thinking it's his son's friend and embarrassing him by telling her he's grounded? It's enough to think the old man only wants his son to miserable because he is after the death of his wife.

Dad wants him to clean up the tools he left lying around on the ground? That's the last straw. It's time to pack up some clothes and provisions, swipe some cash from dad's money clip, and make a plan with his best friend to run off to the forest, build a house, and live there as long as they can. Joe (Nick Robinson) would like it to be for the rest of his life if possible. It's not, but a boy can dream about other things than the girl to whom he occasionally talks.

Joe's best friend is Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and the two of them have become fed up with their parents for completely different reasons. Joe's dad Frank (Nick Offerman) is miserable and, according to his college-aged daughter Heather (Alison Brie), wants everyone else to be miserable along with him. If that's the case, he's doing a fine job, although the question is how much of Joe's misery comes from the grief his father gives him and how much is just there of his own devising. The two probably understand each other better than either is willing to admit, and that alone is enough for considerable tension in a house with plenty of empty, lonely rooms.

Patrick's parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), on the other hand, are too goody-goody for anyone's good. He's convinced they're giving him hives, so when Joe suggests they build a house in a glade in the woods that he finds after running away from a party that turns bad, Patrick might have some reservations but is ultimately in favor of the plan.

It's a fine plan, too, as far as adolescent rebellions go, and soon enough, they've completed construction on a two-story shack complete with a slide to get downstairs. Joe will hunt animals, and Patrick will forage for fruit and the like. They'll also receive assistance from their sidekick Biaggio (Moises Arias), who has tagged along with the two friends.

Biaggio, a very strange young man in a very aggressive way, embodies the movie's prevalent odd streak. Chris Galletta's screenplay employs the character as an easy and, admittedly, sometimes successful tool of comic relief. The other boys and their problems, though prone to affected exaggeration, are at least based in some kind of reality and emotional truth. Biaggio is the movie's comic ida kid who sits in the dark of the house with his eyes wide open just so that Patrick can be startled when he shines a flashlight at him and who hacks his way through the forest with a machete he happens to own, we suppose, in case he ever has to hack his way through the forest.

Does he belong here? He certainly sets a specific tone for parts of the movie, and the shifts in comic pitch are difficult to reconcile.

The swings are not only a matter of tone but also of focus. As the boys try to follow their creed of becoming men by living solely off the land (Joe finds this difficult when confronted with an opossum he's trapped for food and ends up doing his "hunting" at a local chicken restaurant), their parents are trying to track them with the aid of two incompetent local cops (Mary Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch). It leads to the movie's most out-of-place scene in which Patrick's mother reveals herself to be a bigot when forced to consider that he son might have left home voluntarily (It's like a completely different movie when Biaggio finds himself dealing with the cops).

Also strange is a sequence that juxtaposes Frank impatiently listening to his daughter's boyfriend (Eugene Cordero) sing with Joe pining over Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the girl he likes but who does not like him in the same way. Only one of these scenes is necessary in the moment, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wants the joke and the pathos, achieving neither.

There's something to be said for restraint, even when dealing with impulsive characters in a carefree scenario. The lack of restraint in The Kings of Summer sacrifices the honest for the artificial.

Copyright 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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