Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (debut)
Written by: Chris Galletta (debut)
Back in 2010, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brought a short film called “Successful Alcoholics” to the Sundance Film Festival. Reuniting “Cloverfield” co-stars Lizzy Caplan and TJ Miller, the darkly hilarious short about a couple who are successful in their lives and jobs despite being perpetually drunk, gained a lot of buzz and excited people for the future of a new up-and-coming filmmaker. In his feature length debut, Vogt-Roberts impresses once again as a new directorial voice in “The Kings of Summer.”
In the film, teenager Joe (Nick Robinson) sets out into the woods to build a real house so that he can get away from his father (Nick Offerman). Joining him are his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (Moises Arias), a strange kid who always seems to be lingering around. As they forage for food, explore, and build a house, the trio learn to live independently from their overbearing parents, and set out on a quest to grow from boys to men.
In his first feature length film, Robinson is quite good as a rebellious teen. Basso, who is a little more experienced, also brings a lot to the table as his friend Patrick. The last young actor of the trio, Disney Channel veteran Arias, however, is a bit of a mixed bag. In his finest moments, his bizarre character Biaggo is hilariously weird. Then there are times where he is strange simply for the sake of being strange. A lot of Biaggio’s humor is rooted in facial expressions and while it doesn’t completely wear out its welcome, it does get tiresome. The MVP of the cast, without question is Offerman. Deviating only slightly from the monotonous and dry wit of his “Parks and Recreation” character Ron Swanson, Offerman runs away with every scene he appears in and delivers the funniest lines of the film with complete perfection.
“The Kings of Summer” will likely draw comparisons to indie filmmaker Wes Anderson’s work, which is accurate for the most part. The quirky sensibilities of Anderson are there, but Vogt-Roberts does a really good job of reigning it all in and allows the film’s quirkier moments be a part of its charm, rather than use those scenes as a crutch. A lot of credit should be given to former “Late Night with David Letterman” writer Chris Galletta. The screenplay features strong albeit weird jokes and storytelling beats that appropriately capture the essence of teens trying to get away from a suffocating and annoying home life. Much of the humor in the indie is found in subtleties. Galletta’s one liners and non-sequitors hit at a pretty good clip and laughs can be found even in the terrible patchy stubble of the fresh-faced leads.
It’s oddness might detract some viewers, but it’s hard to imagine young audiences not enjoying the hell out of “The Kings of Summer.” It’s an above-average coming-of-age story with a narrative about love, strained friendships, and the fight for independence. Above all else, Vogt-Roberts brings his unique voice to the indie film industry. He definitely has a bright career ahead of him.