While the summer months may be chock-full of explosions and CGI, there are still some smaller films that demand their attention. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival I managed to fit in one of the Festival’s best films, The Way, Way Back with Steve Carrell and Sam Rockwell, a story about a boy’s rite of passage while working at a waterpark.
The perfect double feature would be to watch that alongside director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer, another coming-of-age film that plays like Stand by Me, reimagined by Wes Anderson. OK, maybe it’s not quite that quirky; but it’s still hilarious, heartfelt, and honest with its emotions. It never gets bogged down in sap and still wears its heart on its sleeve.
For teenage Joe (Nick Robinson), living alone with his father Frank (Nick Offerman) is no picnic. He misses his deceased mother, but keeps a loving relationship alive with his older sister Heather (Alison Brie). He has a crush on Kelly (Erin Moriarty) who is dating an older guy named Paul (Nathan Keyes), who has his own apartment and throws keggers out in the woods. After a woodland dweller shoots a gun to scare the kids off, Joe finds a spot in the woods where he decides to build a house to find sanctuary. He invites his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) to join him, and with tag along Biaggio (Moises Arias), they will escape from their parents — Patrick’s are played hilariously by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson — to live off the land and become the men they think they should be.
In The Kings of Summer, you really believe the friendship between Joe and Frank — and even the possibly crazy Biaggio. You also feel the hurt when the truth between Kelly and Joe’s standing rears its head, and when tragedy strikes — as it always does — towards the end. Harkening back to the youngster rapport of the aforementioned Stand by Me, along with The Goonies, or even the more recent Super 8 (which Basso was also in), the performances keep it together. The particular highlight however, is of course, Offerman. Every line out of his mouth is solid gold. As for Mullally and Jackson, all kids think their parents could be aliens, but there’s a strong case to be made that Patrick’s really may be.
The teenage antics are never overplayed, and writer Chris Galletta definitely remembers what it’s like to be an awkward teenager all too well. Even if director Vogt-Roberts relies a little too heavily on the use of slo-mo and loves his nature shots too much. We already know they’re out in the woods, just let the cast deliver the goods — which they do. The Kings of Summer certainly won’t be ruling the box office, but CBS Films has picked up a film ripe for awards season and I doubt it will be overlooked. I just hope audiences decide to go because it deserves the word-of-mouth as The Kings of Summer is one of the best films of the summer, and of the year.
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