Featuring the likes of Alison Brie,
Nick Offerman, and Megan Mullally, The
Kings of Summer initially feels like watching NBC’s Thursday night comedy
block. And most surprisingly, it happens to be just as funny. But the three
actors are peripheral to Jordan Vogt-Robert’s delightfully amusing debut
feature. The focus is centralized on the plights of three youths (Moises Arias,
Gabriel Basso, Nick Robinson) coming out of their freshmen year of high school.
Interchangeably-toned and visually layered, The
Kings of Summer is one of the more surprising efforts to come out of the
2013 class of Sundance films – a
surprisingly sincere and hilarious examination of youth.
Chris Galleta’s sharp scripting positions his three leads not as outcasts or bullied, but rather as normal kids plagued by an increasingly dysfunctional family life. They are united by friendship and a thirst for adventure. Most crucial to the film’s success is the manner in which Galleta refutes pretense for grandiose dramatics. What cuts through so much of The Kings of Summer is a richly satisfying sarcastic sense of humor. Even as the film embraces an increasingly dramatic tone, there’s a comic presence that always feels appropriate to the situation. That’s not to say the picture is without gravity –the film embarks on a narrative that finds youth on the cusp of adulthood as they attempt to achieve some measure of masculinity. The film’s central thematic element is therein realized humorously with the sporadic interjection of elements like coping with the loss of a parent and the strains placed on brotherhood.
Those who embraced Miguel Arteta’s Youth in Revolt will find many of the same oddly juxtaposed elements in The Kings of Summer. Quirky tonal shifts and the deployment of eclectic visual components are all prevalent. And with Nick Robinson sporting an ill-advised teenage mustache, the comparison is an apt one. Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Ross Reige run through an extensive visual palette – ranging from the absurd to poetic. Vogt-Roberts’ has the virtue to compliment the perpetually-moving material with his off-kilter visual approach, though as one would expect, results tend to vary. This is particularly the case when the director abusively bridges his plotting with numerous musical cues of little comic or dramatic consequence. But the genuine nature of the picture makes up for much of the film’s transparent flaws. The sincerity and wit that The Kings of Summer possess goes a long way – it’s simply a charming summer effort of the exceedingly pleasant variety.