Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review: "The Kings of Summer"

Every year there are multiple coming-of-age films that enter our theatres. Some of them are great (2007's Juno), some of them are continuously revered (1986's Ferris Bueller's Day Off), and unfortunately some of them are terrible (2009's I Love You, Beth Cooper). One of the best most recent additions to the genre was Will Gluck's 2010 film Easy A. It was genuinely funny and offered a breakout performance from Emma Stone, who has yet to find another role to match her skills. The Kings of Summer is the feature film debut from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It screened at Sundance in January as Toy's House. I am not sure if I like the title change. The Kings of Summer sounds too generic. The film stars a host of familiar television faces, including husband and wife team Nick Offerman (Parks & Recreation) and Megan Mullally (Will & Grace), although they do not play a married couple in the film. The film centres around the exploits of two teenage boys who build a house deep in the woods to escape the frustrations of their overbearing parents. The boys are played by Nick Robinson (Melissa & Joey) and Gabriel Basso (The Big C). Admittedly, I was a little unsure of what to expect from the film. Offerman and Mullally, when onscreen together, tend to go over the top. Added to Basso's petulant persona on The Big C, I feared that The Kings of Summer would lack the necessary charm. Yet, for a coming-of-age film it does the trick. While it offers nothing new and falls too easily into the trap of genre cliches, The Kings of Summer is a charming story with an eclectic mix of performances.

Joe Toy (Robinson) has finally had it with his overbearing father. Frank (Offerman) has not had an easy time being a single father since his wife died. It does not help that Joe's sister Heather (Alison Brie) is off at college, leaving him to bear the brunt of their father's micromanaging. His best friend Patrick (Basso) has two very loving parents (Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) who bring micromanaging to an entire new level. Joe, frustrated by his father for the last time, announces that he and Patrick are going to build their own house in the middle of the forest. With the help of the very strange Biaggio (Moises Arias), the three boys manage to build a makeshift house in the woods.

There is no shortage of films that deal with kids frustrated by their parents. The film does a good job highlighting Joe's and Patrick's dissatisfaction with life at home. I felt a little suffocated watching the opening scenes. Yet I was a little disappointed to see the film fall into the trap of the relationship triangle. It just seemed unnecessary and too easy a way to cause a rift between Joe and Patrick. The Kings of Summer is also the first screenplay from Chris Galletta, whose IMDb profile only lists four 2005 episodes of Late Show with David Letterman amongst his credits. Hopefully we will see these men grow as a screenwriter and as a director. It is a coming-of-age film in more ways than one. There are far too many good things happening on screen to fault the film for being too formulaic. Shot entirely in Ohio, the story is filmed with such sun-drenched beauty that I would consider moving into the woods! The Kings of Summer will be nothing more than a summer distraction, but it should hopefully be an introduction to two young actors who will be appearing on screen much more in the future.

My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.

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