Jordan Vogt-Roberts crowbars the prototypical coming-of-age movie wide open with his refreshingly irreverent The Kings of Summer, which sees three boys, Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (Moises Arias), decamp from their homes and decide to build a house in the woods.
Joe and Patrick are saddled with overbearing parents, and it’s easy to see why they view this trip as an escape; Joe’s father Frank (Nick Offerman) is a strict authoritarian who veers just left of Offerman’s Ron Swanson character from Parks and Recreation, while Patrick’s parents (the mother of whom is played by Offerman’s wife, Megan Mullally), are irritatingly doting and oblivious. Biaggio, however, is the enigma, the oddball who tags along just because he can.
As the former two’s families scramble to find their kids, the trio’s friendship shoots through an arc not dissimilar to a less-violent version of Lord of the Flies, with the three jostling for authority, and chiding one another for their less-than-masculine foibles (such as buying chicken from the local supermarket rather than hunting it).
Things get truly tricky once a cute local girl, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), gets in the middle of Joe and Patrick, causing the idyllic getaway to not seem quite so peaceful. Biaggio, meanwhile, is the comic centrifuge, steering things back to delightfully demented territory just when it begins to feel like things might get too serious.
Though this ground has been well-trodden time and time again, screenwriter Chris Galletta finds a niche to slot firmly into, delivering a script that at even the worst of times is amusing, and at its best is uproariously funny. The highlights ostensibly come from Offerman’s miserable exchanges with people he doesn’t like (pretty much everyone), and Arias’ generally deranged demeanour, but the strong performances from the three leads on the whole ensure that the drama is just as effective as the comedy.
Things very nearly venture too far into self-seriousness in act three, but it’s snatched back from the tonal chasm by counter-balancing humour and an honest affirmation of the nature of young male friendships. Yes, it features an indie rock soundtrack and the expected montages, but they’re all shot through with a certain degree of ingenuity.
This tonally buoyant coming-of-age film works as both an off-kilter comedy and a potent drama.
The Kings of Summer premieres in Sundance London on April 25th.
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