There have been plenty of rites of passage movies over the years; the pitch perfect Stand By Me immediately comes to mind, now this Sundance Film Festival favourite proves you can add new twists to a tried and tested formula and come up with something really rather special.
Set in a bucolic Midwest town of lush green woodland it shows best friends Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) turning away from their far from perfect family lives to set up camp in the woods and spend the summer bonding over ‘man’ things.
They decide to build a house out of stuff they either ‘borrow’ from their parents or find discarded and the result is more shabby chic shack than lean-to. In fact, their home from home has a magical fairytale quality that matches the increasingly eccentric edge to the storyline, much of which is fuelled by the weird and wonderful character of Biaggio (Moises Arias), the boy from school who latches on to Joe and Patrick and joins them in the woods.
As the days progress and the influence of their parents starts to fade into insignificance, the boys bond, bicker, fall out (over a girl, of course), discover their ‘inner men’ and have a stand off at Monopoly and in the course of doing so, grow up. Watching the characters of Joe and Patrick slowly mature before our eyes is one of the great pleasures of this film, as is the quirky sense of humour that stops it from becoming far too cute for its own good.
While Robinson and Basso are brilliant as sarcastic Joe and the ever sunny Patrick, it is Moises Arias who steals the acting thunder here, and then some. His Biaggio is quite brilliantly, anarchically bonkers. Whether he is acting him exactly as he is written on the page, or has added personal flourishes and tics, he inhabits Biaggio as if channelling the essence of some strange Puckish elf-child. In one extraordinary scene, as his compatriots drum a pagan rhythm against a giant log, he perches on top creating primordial patterns with his arms and legs.
The Kings of Summer feels a lot like ET, but without the alien as it is the most lovely and true depiction of boyhood friendship. If you yearn for the days when you could spend hours climbing trees, making dens and exploring without the interference or supervision of parents, this film will bring the memories flooding back. Enjoy every sweet golden moment of it.