Three lost, dazed and confused teenaged American Mid-West boys, Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and Biaggio (Moises Arias), quit their comfy homes and annoying families and take to the woods, where they spend an eventful summer building a house and living off the land.
Unfortunately, the summer proves less of an idyll and more a test of friendship.
This really sweet, fresh and funny rite-of-passage film, examining the eternal difficulties of adolescence, is a true pleasure and delight. It could be a comedy or a drama, but they’ve decided to juggle both balls and make it both.
So, one part of the teen coming-of-age story is pure comedy, the other pure heartache. This could be tricky to pull off, but writer Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts boldly go, confidently walk the fine line between the laughs and the pain, get the balance right, push both to the max, and never fall off the sturdy vehicle they’ve created.
Of course, the careful casting helps. All three boys are perfect, they’re naturals for the roles. Robinson is just right as the fundamentally, tooth-achingly nice hero. He could easily have overplayed this, but keeps it always on the right level, and nice is devilishly hard to play and keep sympathetic. Basso has all the needed charm and skill to pull off his character, the right air of innocent bewilderment, of easy sexuality, easy masculinity, an immaculate exterior covering a not too-well-hidden shyness and sensitivity.
Arias (from TV’s Hannah Montana) has such a weird, eccentric and unpredictable character to play as the lad that just attaches himself to Joe and won’t go away that most actors would have messed this up by overplaying the laughs and the pathos. Arias is low-key ideal.
Megan (Will & Grace) Mullally gets truthful laughs out of her character as Patrick’s nerdy, over-protective, but under-understanding mum. Mullally’s real-life husband Nick Offerman’s hilarious as Joe’s supremely sarcastic, widowed dad. Erin Moriarty is lovely as Joe’s beloved classmate, who comes between him and Patrick.
Above all, The Kings of Summer is a clear labour of love and, with its timely but timeless story, a nostalgia fest.
A hit at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, it’s never going to be a blockbuster, but it is a huge crowd-pleaser.