The Kings of Summer is a warm and affectionate comedy about that last great summer when you’re 13 or 14 and you don’t realize just how much your life is about to change and things will never be this way again. Next summer, these three boys — Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (Moises Arias) — will be a little older, more self-aware, deeper into their adolescence and will have moved onto girls and older pursuits. They won’t be as interested in the games and horseplay they still enjoy. But for now, they still have fun punching each other in the arm to see who gives first, hiding out in a cabin in the woods made out of scrap metal and chunks of wood so they can escape their overbearing parents and promising to survive by hunting and feeding off the land (but sneaking off to Boston Market when they realize how hard hunting actually is).
The movie marks the feature-length debut of director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who hails from the Funny or Die realm, and former Late Show with David Letterman staffer Chris Galletta. The combination of those two sensibilities explains the film’s absurd, often explosively funny humor, as well as its indefatigably cheerful spirit. When Joe’s overbearing father (Nick Offerman, hilarious) proves too much with the chores and the rules, the boy calls 911 on him. Patrick’s mom and dad (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are the sort of ever-cheerful Stepford parents who can’t stop smothering their son with love. Biaggio (played with pitch-perfect, other-worldly weirdness by Arias, from Hannah Montana) chooses to live in the woods with his two pals for no other reason than the idea sounds fun.
But there’s a big difference between building a glorified treehouse and actually making a go of it. The Kings of Summer uses this improbable scenario as a wish-fulfillment fantasy — what young adolescent hasn’t dreamed at some point of being able to live on his or her own? — and then maximizes the fun in it, regardless of its plausibility. The sight of the three boys banging rhythmically on a drain pipe, Stomp-style, while Biaggio performs a bizarre dance is one of the most wonderfully odd things I’ve seen in a movie this year.
Eventually — inevitably — trouble comes to paradise in the form of a nice girl (Erin Moriarty) whom Joe and Patrick both love. Reality starts to set in, and the first breezes of fall begin to blow. The movie has a profound understanding of the back-and-forth nature of the bond between boys, and it ends on a silent note of forgiving looks and instant reconciliation that is the privilege of the young, whose lives aren’t yet complicated enough to put resentment before friendship
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Erin Moriarty.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Screenwriter: Chris Galletta.
Producer: Tyler Davidson, John Hodges, Peter Saraf.
A CBS Films release. Running time: 93 minutes. Vulgar language, teen drinking. In Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Palm Beach: Palace.