One of this year’s favourites to come out of Sundance, The Kings of Summer is a nostalgic, fun and surprisingly moving transportation back into the peaks and troughs of male puberty. As a film it triumphantly consolidates the joys of the contemporary American Independent cinema and manages to curtail its weaknesses; never feeling self-consciously “kooky”.
The Kings of Summer centres on best friends Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) who, both in the quagmire age group of 15-17, find themselves at the start of their summer holidays growing increasingly frustrated by their nagging parents. When Joe’s invited to a beach party by the apple of his eye, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the holidays look to be getting off to a slightly more promising start.
Upon being embarrassed by Kelly’s jock older boyfriend, the party splits up and Joe finds himself running home with the nerdy, outstandingly eccentric Biaggio (Moises Arias). The pair find a perfect clearing in the woods on their way home, the moon light imbuing the space with a magical realist quality that entrances the two newly formed friends.
The next day, still enraged by his humiliation, his dad’s totalitarian rule and dazzled by the finding Joe takes Patrick, with Biaggio in tow, back to the magical spot in the woods. All in the same boat, the three resolve to build a house in the clearing and live out in the woods for the summer, lords of all they survey; the very kings of summer.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings a cinematic quality to the film which approximates what it might have been like if Terrence Malick had directed The Inbetweeners Movie. Montages blend arbitrary slow motion shots of the young lads walking through fields and wind whistling through the trees with the three taking it in turns to punch each other as hard as they can, drinking beers on cliff tops and generally shoving each other around. Their relationship feels completely authentic which further helps the film absolutely nail the tone of carefree summer holidays on the cusp of “manhood”.
This concept of manhood is central to The Kings of Summer; it’s Joe’s longing for respect and autonomy from his father which primarily drives the three into living in the woods. There’s an interesting paradox at play here though, wherein their ideals of adult life and “being men” is archaic to the point of being plucked from folklore, even fairytales.
For instance Joe and Biaggio strut through the woods carrying swords and wearing helmets in a hunt for food. The fact they end up buying friend chicken from a shop doesn’t seem to bother them, completing the quest was enough. When complications with girls ensue the three boys end up undermining their delusions of manliness with some decidedly childish behaviour, which pairs off effectively with the immaturity and petulance seen in Joe’s father as he attempts to find his escapee son. The film’s conceit being that nobody truly grows up; perhaps a fairly facile message but it works effectively in the film’s undeniably charming framework.
Joe & Patrick amend their disagreement wordlessly, solidifying their friendship by shooting self-reflexive birdies at one another from their parents’ respective vehicles; a moment which seems to microcosmically embody the overarching tone of the entire film. The Kings of Summer is a playful, warm and refreshingly understated comedy that comes highly recommended.
Kings of Summer is out on Blu Ray and DVD on Monday 30th September, 2013.
See director John Vogt-Roberts talk about the film here: