It would be easy to liken The Kings Of Summer to Stand By Me and 2011’s brilliant Belgian film The Giants. While it does resemble both of these, with its summer setting, coming of age angst and youth in revolt mannerism, it owes more to the films of John Hughes than anything else. A shot near the beginning of protagonist Joe in the shower, having formed a Mohawk hairstyle with shampoo is an obvious but welcome nod to Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The Kings Of Summer is that typically Hughesian story; a film about a teenager struggling to come to terms with himself and, whilst having a few laughs, is eventually forced to swallow a bitter pill in order to understand that being like your moody father doesn’t make you a bad person.
Joe (Nick Robinson) and father Frank (Nick Offerman) don’t get along very well. Since Joe’s mother and Frank’s wife died, they’ve been at loggerheads despite Joe’s elder sister Heather (Alison Brie) trying to broker the peace. Meanwhile Joe’s best friend Patrick (Super 8’s Gabriel Basso) is sick of being hen-pecked and berated by his intrusive parents. Together, with the help of Biaggio (Moises Arias), they run away from home and build a house in the middle of a nearby woods. Determined to live life their own way, free of controlling and bullying parents, the boys have a ball until Joe’s crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) arrives and tensions mount.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta have conjured a magical, often funny and always whimsical look at the trials and tribulations of hormonal teenage boys. The Kings Of Summer is poignant but manages to hit a funny bone at just the right moments so as prevent over-sentimentality from creeping in.
It’s less Lord Of The Flies more The Goonies by way of The Breakfast Club, a journey of discovery in which the destination is the realisation that doing what makes you happy is more important than a desperate understanding of self.
It’s visually stunning, shot with a kiss of sunlight in every frame to remind you of the simplistic bliss of a long hot summer as a child. Towards the end Kings does slightly go off the beaten track but thankfully the climax, which refuses to conform to cookie-cutter happy endings, pulls it back to leave you with a sense of justice and fulfilment rarely seen in modern cinema.
The cast are stunning. Robinson perfectly captures the put-upon teen whose father is determined to exert his power over his disengaged son. Offerman brings his typically deadpan expression to the proceedings and is captivating as the father who slowly realises he may be the problem at the heart of his son’s life. But it is young Moises as wide-eyed loon Biaggio who steals the show. Every scene in which he is key hums with the potential for laughter and warmth. He’s somewhere between Forrest Gump and The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon, all heart with just a hint of unhinged madness. While the other kids might be playing grown-up you can’t help but wonder if Biaggio is playing at being a kid.
A film that taps into that awkward nostalgia of being a teen in which every syllable out of your parents mouth is like nails on a chalk board, The Kings Of Summer is a funny, honest and always cute film to warm the heart whilst gently tickling the funny bone.