Whether you had parents that were distant or parents that were overbearing, we all likely dreamed about running away from home while growing up. These unrealistic fantasies likely involved hitting the road with one or two good friends and building a safe haven somewhere in the wildness. Naturally, we all quickly woke up from this daydream, realizing that we’d never make it on our own. “The Kings of Summer” exists in an offbeat world fueled by our youthful daydreams. The end product is funny and quirky, but also wise and nostalgic with something meaningful to say about coming of age.
Nick Robinson gives a breakthrough performance as Joe, a young man who is having trouble seeing eye to eye with his controlling father, perfectly played by the stone-faced Nick Offerman. Joe’s best friend is Patrick, played by Gabriel Basso, a wrestler with a walking brace. Patrick is equally fed up with his corny, annoying parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evans Jackson). The two buds decide to leave society behind and build a house in the woods using whatever material they can find. Also tagging along is a pipsqueak classmate named Biaggio, played by Moises Arias, who wields a sword and leaves the tags on his pants. He’s a bit like if Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Abed from “Community” had a son together somehow.
While “The Kings of Summer” might not be the most practical film, none of it ever feels false. That’s probably because the rapport between Robinson, Basso, and Arias is so genuine. We identify with each of these characters and understand their desire to get away from it all. The fact that they succeed in making a perennial daydream a reality only adds to their appeal. Of course once they get out into the woods, matters don’t entirely go according to plan. At first it’s a ton of fun, being on their own. As time goes by, though, the friends face betrayal, confrontation, and learn what it truly means to grow up.
The supporting cast is great too. Erin Moriarty stands out as Kelly, the girl Joe would like to be more than just friends with, and Allison Brie is wonderful as always as Joe’s supportive older sister. The parents easily could have been restricted to one-note, but that never becomes the case. They’re all hilarious and likable in their own ways, even Joe’s sourpuss dad. Although they aren’t the best parents in the world, they’re certainly believable ones.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and first-time screenwriter Chris Galletta have made a winner. Their film is a splendid cross between “Stand by Me” and “Moonrise Kingdom” with maybe a little “Phineas and Ferb” in there. What they nail above all else is the magic of summer. Although we all like to dream about having grand summer adventures, we usually spend a majority of this period cooped up in a house. But our best summer memories are the ones that take place outside, exploring the woods, swimming, camping, hanging with friends, and finding love. “The Kings of Summer” flawlessly depicts this enchanting sentiment.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com