Ah, nature. The great outdoors. The wild, green, yonder. As a child, there’s nothing more liberating than the thought of building your own house in the middle of nowhere, escaping your parents, responsibilities, and the societal bullshit that cages you like some immature, domesticated animal. Well, there’s that, and the fact that you can just hang out with your buddies 24/7 acting like morons and drinking beer. Either way, The Kings Of Summer is a remarkable little “coming of age” story which follows three boys and their outdoorsy adventure into growth, bonding, self-discovery, and childhood wonderment – one we all wish we could have lived out.
Joe (Nick Robinson) lives with his single, bitter father Frank (Nick Offerman), Patrick (Gabriel Basso) lives with his overwhelming parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), and Biaggio (Moises Arias), well, nobody really knows that weird little man’s deal, but they’re all sick of their “repressed” lives. How do they fix their situation? By finding a nice clearing deep into a thick local forest, building a house of their own out of any spare materials they can find, and running away from home. Living by only the rules of the wilderness, our three friends enjoy their new, independent lives, while their parents launch an effort to bring them home – until a girl comes into the picture. Can the boys hold it together during their adventure? Or will the boy’s plans go up in flames ignited by a competitive love triangle.
Coming into The Kings Of Summer, I expected your typical “coming of age” story about young adolescents learning life lessons, but Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film was so, so much more than just typical. Chris Galletta’s screenplay balances hearty, belly-busting laughter with honest moments of family drama, teenage ambition, our own nostalgic personal wants for independence, and lessons on forgiveness that leave a warm, fuzzy feeling you can’t help but love. From the boy’s acceptance of their quirky, nerdy, and downright strange classmate Biaggio, to Frank’s struggles with being an only father, the audience can very easily watch each character grow in some way, but not in a cheesy “after school special” kind of arc. The laughs are bountiful, the story is meaningful, and the experience is an extremely positive one – a testament to true, heartfelt, story-centric independent filmmaking.
Enter Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, and Moises Arias, our rightfully crowned “Kings of Summer.” Sure, there’s also actors Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie, and Mary Lynn Rajskub, but our campfire trio easily led us back to times when we ourselves were discovering who we were – fighting over girls, (un)justly hating our parents, striving to be treated as full-fledged adults. Joe’s struggles with Frank are normal for a child only being brought up by a hard-nosed father, Patrick is suffocated by an upbringing consisting of too much attention, and Biaggio, well, like I said before, Biaggio is nothing but a mystery – which is why his character is so incomparably funny.
Together though, each boy is relatable and understandable, and even though I’m just a newly turned 24-year-old still struggling to find a solid grip on my own life, I’d be pretty pressed to say grownup audience members can still sympathize with the children – even if either Joe’s or Patrick’s parents hit all too close to home. Joe, Patrick, and Biaggio offer gripping, grounded characters who teach and learn at the same time, no matter how awkward they are, and display a sense of comradery which goes hand in hand with The Kings Of Summer‘s feel-good vibe.
In terms of straight comedy though, welcome to the game Moises Arias. If you have the ability to outshine Nick Offerman at his burliest, hairiest, and most ruggedly hilarious best, then hot damn you’ve got a special talent. Literally every word that came out of his character Biaggio’s mouth was gold, his motions were nerdily spastic and energetic, and come to think of it, everything Arias did was damned near perfect for that stereotypically outcast teenager who just can’t seem to understand normal social behavior (does anyone?). Arias embraced absurdity with his fearlessly comical performance, delivering scene-stealing moments which will undoubtedly make Moises Arias the new “it” kid when a geeky, out-of-touch with reality role is necessary. Let’s just hope his talents aren’t beaten into the ground like so many before him, but if they are, Biaggio will still be his crowning achievement.
The whole “coming of age” process is usually a long, arduous journey full of graceless moments which we wish could be forgotten, but through the fantastical and implausible means The Kings Of Summer drums up, it’s hard to ignore the emotional heartstrings this fun-filled movie tugs. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film is like when an adult bites into a freshly toasted s’mores and immediately reminisces about summer camp with his best buddies – you can’t help but sport a wild grin as three teenagers discover freedom for themselves. It’s a wild, uninhibited transformation brought upon by filmmakers taking liberties to remain more enchanting than gritty, but this is also a decision that creates an overall tone of enjoyment. Was I saddened while Frank and Joe were fighting? No, because their organic chemistry and quick-witted arguments were entertaining. Shining a positive light on everything just perpetuates the quirkiness that we call “growing-up,” reminding us that no matter how bad we think our lives are/were as teenagers feeling trapped by the constraints of our “evil, no-good parents,” life is/was still pretty damn good.
The Kings Of Summer is a triumphant “coming of age” story with riotous laughter, memorable performances, and a pulsating heartbeat that makes Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ winning effort more than just a mere film. You’ll be treated to a group of home-grown children who learn their own lessons yet teach audiences along the way, all the time giving viewers a hypnotizingly brilliant show. Cleverly balancing drama and comedy, Chris Galletta’s writing sets perfect scenarios for growth and discovery, as the mixture of all these ingredients ends up defining a new standard for “coming of age” genre lore. Summer of 2013, kneel before your kings.
The Kings Of Summer sets the bar on "coming of age" movies a little bit higher than most, utilizing feel-good filmmaking and childhood nostalgia to carry us through an enchanting story of transformation.