Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes his full-length feature debut with The Kings of Summer, a coming-of-age tale that wisely balances comedy and drama in the hands of mostly unknown actors. The Kings of Summer is a growing tale about shifting from childhood into adulthood, while also learning to deal with the relationships in life that you have, even if they’re ones that you don’t fully understand the value of just yet. Vogt-Roberts’ direction is oftentimes beautiful in its capturing of the great outdoors, but he shows his true strength as a filmmaker when he fully focuses on the relationships between the characters and how each person chooses to deal with them.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is a young growing boy that just wants to do his own thing. His mother passed away and since then his relationship with his father (Nick Offerman) has been on the rocks. Instead of trying to mend his differences with his dad he’s instead chosen to ignore him and attempt to conquer life on his own terms without the help and support of his family. As a young boy he sees this as the best possible option, so he sets out to build a home of his own, with the help of his friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and some strange kid named Biaggio (Moises Arias).
The three men claim their land and build their home without much struggle. Then, they slowly pick up on the idea of having to hunt and grow food for themselves, without the help of the outside world. Like most young boys, they initially find this new-found freedom to be the answer to all of their annoying parent problems, because now they have no one to report to and no one to rely on. They are their own men and at first that feels welcoming and powerful.
But at home their parents are worried sick. Joe’s dad Frank slowly starts to become even more of a hollowed out shell as one of the last things that he loves starts to drift further and further away from him.
Joe and Patrick appear to be enjoying themselves, but soon blood starts to boil as a girl (Alison Brie) comes in between their friendship. While this is happening Biaggio quietly lurks in the background, acting as the wildcard with a heart of gold.
Eventually the boys come to terms with their decisions. Each and every choice that you make has a consequence and sometimes what’s worse is the people that you hurt in the process. Joe, Patrick and even to some extent Biaggio learn the importance of friendship and family when it comes time for a young boy to mature into the man that he wants to be.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives The Kings of Summer a refreshing feel to it that I can’t seem to put my finger on. The story is traditional in the sense that it’s a coming-of-age tale about a group of boys finding themselves in the woods and emerging as men. It also deals with how important relationships are to one’s life, not just between friends, but between father and son or boyfriend and girlfriend. The Kings of Summer really is just a slice of life served up with a clean color palette and a progressing story.
Vogt-Roberts captures each and every tiny moment on camera and presents it as something important. Almost every encounter between the boys serves towards the film’s eventual outcome. Funny moments that might seem like quick jokes to keep the film feeling light and crazy actually come into play later on when it comes time to deal with the boiling emotions that have been stewing over the fire ever since the boys cut their first piece of wood for the house.
Joe is the film’s central character, showing us the problems that he’s having with his father, his friends and a girl that he obviously likes, but is too afraid to make a move on. Actor Nick Robinson approaches the character with a great sense of outside maturity that is housed with typical struggles that most young men find themselves with. He appears to be with a plan and a strong focus, but when confronted about his problems he clearly has little experience when it comes to dealing with them. He shows that he can handle situations with quick actions, but he’s still just a lost kid that’s trying to get a grip on everyone and everything around him.
His answer is to go out into the woods and discover the man that he’s meant to be and thanks to Robinson the film feels like a complete arch for Joe.
Patrick and Biaggio are the film’s other angles. Patrick is similar to Joe, but instead looks at things through a two-step lens. He questions his decisions more than Joe, but he’s still willing to partake in an adventure. Biaggio is the film’s wildcard character, serving up mostly as the film’s comedy focus, but also coming in when needed to deliver unbiased and usually pretty deep insight on any given situation.
Moises Arias is absolutely hilarious as Biaggio. He takes what could have been a one-beat character full of stupid remarks and turns him into a full-fledged weirdo that actually has reasons as to why he’s such an oddball. Sure, he’s funny at times for the hell of it, but when the film calls for purpose Biaggio is usually one of the first ones to show up and blend in without feeling like excess. I credit both Arias and writer Chris Galletta for understanding the character and making him an important part of the film.
Nick Offerman must be praised for his supporting work. His subtle and sarcastic humor provides the character of Frank with an interesting amount of repression. He bottles up most of his true feelings and substitutes them with mean and downright dickish behavior. It’s almost always funny, but it’s also kind of sad watching Frank slowly discover his own flaws and learn how to correct them before it’s too late. Only a performer as talented as Offerman could wisely deliver a performance that’s funny, jaded and full of truth.
The Kings of Summer is a refreshingly smart coming-of-age tale that blends together humor and maturity with an artistic eye. It’s a film that shows lots of promise in the young filmmaker that is Jordan Vogt-Roberts and also one that shows how important the supporting cast is when it comes to driving home the film’s general story. Nick Offerman is absolutely hilarious as Frank, while the three men playing the leads give the film a much-needed dose of rebellious youth setting out to make the world into their own.
The Kings of Summer – 8.5/10