Everyone can remember the feeling all too well: that boiling, under-the-skin itch you got in middle and high school when no matter what your parents did or said, they were absolutely insufferable. Your mom’s comment, your dad’s joke – everything was so embarrassing and terrible and gross. During the worst of those parental offenses it felt like you might actually die.
And we all know that the feeling resurfaces – it bubbles back up on family vacations and weekend visits home. You try to beat it back, reminding yourself that you’re not a teenager anymore, but it’s persistent and invasive. Our universal familiarity with that feeling is precisely why The Kings of Summer is so fun and so freeing: the film finally lets us escape that relentless nudging, the way we’d always dreamt of.
14-year-old Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is going crazy at home. His dad Frank (Nick Offerman) is struggling to navigate how to raise his son after the death of his wife, and he’s adopted the “all rules, no fun” approach. At the beginning of the film, he pounds on the bathroom door as Joe tries to drown out the noise with his daydreams and a very long shower. “Masturbation is fun – I get it,” Frank yells. “It’s not very green to do it with the shower running.”
Joe’s best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is in the same boat. He has the kind of nightmare parents – expertly done by Megan Mullaly and Marc Evan Jackson– who are corny, giggly, overbearing, and still too in love after too many years of marriage. Patrick compares his mom to a character in the videogame he and Joe are playing. “That’s the sound I hear whenever she speaks,” he says, “just the gibberish of an undisciplined animal.”
Joe decides he just can’t take it anymore, and convinces Patrick to run away with him. They steal materials from all over their Ohio town, and construct an impressive house in a clearing in the town’s vast woods. Along the way, they pick up a strange, sword-wielding, gender-lacking kid named Biaggio (Moises Arias) – Arias quickly becomes the best part of the film – who they just can’t seem to shake. The three boys vow to never speak of the location of their new home, to remain in the woods, and to live like the men that they’re sure they are ready to be.
The rest of the film plays out largely as you’d expect – the police try to track the missing boys down, there’s a pretty girl, and not everything goes all that well out in the woods – but that’s just fine. The movie is a hilarious, joyous romp through the boys’ journey of figuring out that maybe they bit off more than they could chew. We get to run away with Joe and Patrick and Biaggio, and it feels good.
The fantastic ensemble cast is what makes this film so fun – highlights include Allison Brie as Joe’s older sister Heather, Eugene Cordero as her terrible but loveable boyfriend Colin, and Thomas Middleditch as a sad, pathetic town policeman. Comedy fans will rejoice at fun cameo appearances by Tony Hale, Hannibal Burress, and Kumail Nanjiani.
The movie is director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ first feature film and writer Chris Galletta’s first produced script. They definitely feel new to the game – at points they try to be a bit too profound, though luckily Biaggio is usually there to lighten the situation – but it comes across as more of an inventive freshness than a lack of experience. The script will have you laughing out loud: weeks later I still crack up about a scene in which Biaggio is convinced that symptoms he’s experiencing – which Joe explains to him are likely cystic fibrosis – mean he’s gay.
The Kings of Summer is great because it feels so true. We remember our classmates who insisted upon growing a mustache before they were really capable of it, like Joe does. We’ve all brought home a significant other who we’re embarrassed by the second they step in the door, just like Heather does. And at one point or another we all wanted to run away. For a couple of hours, we get to.
The Kings of Summer debuted at the 2013 Sundance Festival and is now available on DVD.
Amy Solomon is a senior and an Independent Concentrator in Journalism.