If there’s one thing that coming of age films remind us of, it’s that life as a teenager can be a difficult time. They also remind us of a time when we thought we knew so much more than our parents, that what they deemed best for us was often seen in a negative light at such a young age. Of course, most teens aren’t going to take the radical step that the three main characters of The Kings of Summer take (running away to live on their own and be independent), but what youngster in a situation like theirs doesn’t have such a thought drift across their mind, however briefly?
Joe (Nick Robinson) is a teen living with his dad whose mother passed away some time ago. Ever since, his dad, Frank (Nick Offerman), has not been the same. He’s constantly getting mad with Joe over little things (leaving tools in the driveway, not wanting to participate in Game Night, etc.). Joe finally decides that he’s had enough and devises a plan where he and his two friends, Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (Moises Arias), will build their own house in the middle of the woods. The idea is to live independently. No parents, hunting and killing their own food, and basically living off the land. It seems like a great idea at first, but as you could probably guess, it’s not as easy as they thought it would be.
Going down the list of coming of age clichés, you’ll find almost all of them here. You have the youths who are somewhat lost in their own lives, not fitting very well into their own families. You have an eventual romance that pops up involving a friend of Joe’s, Kelly (Erin Moriarty). In fact, the only one that really seems to be missing is the mentor character, the one who usually shows up to guide the youths in the right direction. This missing element actually goes a long way towards explaining how their crazy idea gets carried out in the first place.
Had they had such a mentor, then this person would have explained to them the folly of such a venture, but then there wouldn’t have been much of a film to speak of. That being said, you still have to wonder how these kids didn’t think it through in the first place. Granted, they’re rather young, but in what reality did they think something like this would actually work? Anyways, I guess we should count ourselves lucky that they gave it a shot, or else we wouldn’t have gotten this delightful film.
It’s rather amusing to watch them try to put their plan into action. They successfully build a shelter, but when it comes to hunting their own food, well, things don’t go so well. Luckily they have a Boston Market located not too far away for their convenience. They swear to secrecy, but that doesn’t last very long as Joe invites Kelly, who in turn brings a couple of friends. This is where things start heating up in the romance department.
However, Joe’s problem is that Kelly ends up attracted to Patrick and vice-versa. This leads into your standard jealousy subplot that puts a wedge between the two friends. It’s rather predictable, and Joe’s behavior during this part of the film is rather annoying, but again you have to remember that these kids are fairly young, so adolescent behavior is to be expected.
The film’s other amusing sections involve the parents of the runaways. Nick Offerman gives a very amusing performance as Joe’s dad, who only becomes more miserable after his son runs away. Patrick’s parents, played by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson, aren’t quite as effective, coming off more so as parents from a bad SNL sketch, but they do get one or two amusing moments.
Then you have the three leads, who do an outstanding job at portraying the frustration of the teenage years. Well, at least Robinson and Basso do. Arias’ character doesn’t really seem to have any problems at home that we’re told of. He just kind of comes along for the experience. However, Arias does a fine job at showing us how weird a character Biaggio is. The three have great chemistry together, which goes a long way toward making their friendship seem more believable.
With The Kings of Summer, I was a little split. There are a few issues holding it back, but overall it’s a pretty entertaining film. Sure, it’s rather absurd, but that’s a good part of what makes it so funny. These guys actually thought they could go live off the land, all just to get away from their parents. There were probably several easier ways to get the desired effects, but it’s doubtful that any of them would have been this enjoyable.
Taking a brief look at the specs, the film is presented in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that has no problems to speak of. Most of the film takes place in the overcast woods, giving the film a dark look for much of its runtime, but the picture always remains perfectly sharp. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is likewise flawless with all levels coming through loud and clear.
Special features include the following:
- Cast and Crew Commentary
- Alison Brie & Eugene Cordero On-Set Interview
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- The Long Shot Featurette
- Frankly Speaking with Frank Toy: The Best One-Liners
Starting with the commentary as always, it features the director (Jordan Vogt-Roberts), writer (Chris Galletta), and the three leads (Robinson, Basso, and Arias). This commentary is a complete waste of time as it has everyone trying to talk at once, and even when someone is talking it’s usually just to make a joke, so there’s basically nothing to be learned with this track.
The deleted and extended scenes don’t feature anything important removed from the story and instead mainly focuses on the pointless scene of the boys playing drums and dancing on a pipe. The Long Shot Featurette is a three-minute jumble of interviews with a few cast and crew. Unfortunately it doesn’t get into any depth, but what would you expect with just three minutes? The on-set interview is even shorter and is pretty much just Brie and Cordero goofing off, while “Frankly Speaking” is just Offerman’s best parts of the film, making it a pointless inclusion.
Unfortunately, these special features are all rather disappointing. How hard would it have been to conduct proper interviews with the cast and crew? They obviously already had them sitting down and answering questions, so what went wrong? Perhaps what they were saying just wasn’t that interesting, but at least it would have been something rather than just little random snippets. Despite the lack of decent special features, I’m still able to give this release a slight recommendation because the film itself is rather charming, and it shouldn’t be penalized for the laziness of the extras. This may not be a great coming of age film, but with its good sense of humor and engaging performances, it’s still very much worth seeing.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.