By Laurie Coker
In my opinion, it is becoming increasingly more and more difficult for writers and directors to come up with fresh takes on coming of ages tales. Films like Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me come around only once in a while, and John Hughes cornered the market on his style of teen-angst storytelling. Few have of late measured up to those of the past. Screenwriter Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s film Kings of Summer is a surprising story rivaling those of which I am so fond.
As summer ends, three freshman boys wonder how they will survive three dull, uneventful months trapped in their lives with their crazy families. Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moses Arias star as Joe, Patrick and Biaggo – two best friends and an oddball, tag along, who decide to venture into nature and build a home, where they can live parent free, depending on only their own resources to survive. From traversing the precarious edges of friendship and love, to surviving the trials of nature, events unfold that test the young men, their relationships and their fortitude.
This young cast is exceptional, especially Robinson. At times Arias grated on me, but to be fair, Biaggo is meant to be weird and annoying. He is the comic relief and rightly so, and Arias plays it perfectly. Erin Moriarty, who plays Kelly, the thorn of love between best friends, is amply pretty and worthy of the boys’ affection. The adults in the film, including Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson, have little screen time, but Nick Offerman puts in a delightful and notable performance as Joe’s quick-tempered, foul-mouthed but overall decent and loving father. Scenes between Joe and his dad are particularly moving.
As each boy travels on his journey to manhood, we watch knowingly, reflecting on our own youth-filled, emotional and physical challenges. Because of well-defined characters, I found myself relating to both the teens and their parents – a sign of my age, I am sure. On one hand, I longed to venture back to my youth, and on the other, I was a bit peeved at the boys for not curtailing their parents’ fears – allowing them a great deal of time to believe they lost their sons. Even so, Galletta, who grew up in New York and not Ohio, has to “know” his characters and their plights personally, because he fabulously fleshes them out.
Filmed beautifully, in the ‘scapes of Ohio, Kings of Summer is filled with implausibilities and improbabilities – Joes happens on the perfect natural environment for escapism, the boys mange to build a livable, two story house out of scraps and trash, and they go weeks without telling their parents where they are (promoting missing persons manhunt). They even survive without electricity and Internet, OMG! Hunting, by the way, lands them at a Boston Market. But none of this matters, because its cast is refreshing and the story pleasantly familiar, and at the end, we feel good for having seen it and the characters.
Kings of Summer, rated R for underage drinking, language and some violence, is a decent escape from the hot, doldrums of summer, making a trip to a chilled theatre an even more pleasing repose. I am placing a B+ in my grade book. While certainly not perfect, it does satisfy.