Summertime is Adventuretime

The Kings of Summer
(USA, 93 min.)
Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Writ. Chris Galletta
Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Bosso, Moises Arias, Erin Moriarty, Nic Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Alison Brie.
 (L-R) Nick Robinso, Moises Arias and Gabriel Basso, star in eOne Films’
upcoming release The Kings of Summer.
School’s out for the summer! Escape pencils, books, and the teacher’s dirty looks with the whimsical indie comedy The Kings of Summer. Not too distant a relative of Mud and with a few signs of a little inbreeding with Moonrise Kingdom, The Kings of Summer is a quirky, Sundance-y coming-of-age story.

The Kings of Summer sees a trio of young boys go forth into the wild to become men. Joe (Nick Robinson) is tired of his cranky dad (Nic Offerman) and Patrick (Gabriel Bosso) can barely breathe under the smothering of his suffocating parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson). Joe convinces Patrick to escape the dull summer days of playing Monopoly and working in the garden with the ‘rents. Summertime is adventuretime.

The friends go a journey and create their own paradise in the woods that’s strictly for kids. Rather than build a simple tree fort or pitch a tent, Joe envisions the trio making a solid house. (The film begins with Joe building a shoddy birdhouse, so woodworking is in his blood.) Along the way, they adopt a bizarre creature named Biaggio (Moises Arias), who doesn’t seem to have especially eccentric parents, but just wants to come along for the ride. Biaggio wields a machete pretty well, too, so he’s a decent asset in the hunting department. He’s also a bit too unpredictable to be told to bugger off.

The boys are free for the first few weeks of summer as they live off the land (with the aid of some grocery store chickens) and enjoy being kings of their ramshackle castle without any parents telling them what to do. Their idyll summer doesn’t last though—innocence never does—and Joe and Patrick must face growing up whether they want to or not. (Biaggio is a case unto himself.) Marked by the sprouting stubble on their chinny-chin-chins, Joe and Patrick can’t escape growing up in the wild. Girl trouble, teen angst, and the boys’ own semblance to their parents all find their ways into the fortress in the woods.

The Kings of Summer is, as all good stories of kids in the woods are, a fun coming of age story. It’s a familiar tale, and well in the tradition of films like Stand by Me or even The Little Rascals, but The Kings of Summer is a harmless, enjoyable summer treat for kids and grown-ups alike. It has an innocent, boyish energy: The Kings of Summer is enjoyed for the thrill of living in the moment without the care of responsibility or the thought of whatever else burdens you outside the theatre doors. The Kings of Summer, droll and clever, is a fine piece of summer escapism.

Especially funny are the three actors playing the parents. Offerman, Mullally, and Jackson are awkward to the point of squeamishness. These parents are a kid’s worst nightmare and they’re hilarious to watch. Offerman in particular gives the film a nice dramatic edge towards its final act, but his funniest scenes are the cringe-inducing sketches where he must endure the brown-nosing of his daughter’s boyfriend, Colin (Eugene Cordero). Also funny is “Mad Men’s” Alison Brie as Joe’s sister, Heather, who has lots of fun playing the intermediary between Joe and her dad and Colin and her dad.

The three young leads nevertheless carry the film fairly well. Robinson, a relative newcomer, holds most of the picture on his own and it’s obvious that Bosso (from TV’s “The Big ‘C’” is bound to move on the bigger things. Arias clearly has a ball with the loony part of Biaggio, although the character himself is a bit of a one-note joke that stretches for ninety-odd minutes. He’s weird for the sake of being weird—an unshakable Sundance kid—but he’s half the film’s charm until The Kings of Summer starts to overstay its welcome.

Like many a childhood adventure, The Kings of Summer is a great thrill, but it’s not for those with short attention spans. The film drags considerably for a film with a running time of just over an hour and a half. Thoughts of “Are we there yet?” are bound to float through the theatre as The Kings of Summer approaches its end. It’s fun to be a kid again for at least an hour, though.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

The Kings of Summer opens in select theatres on June 7.