Friday, July 3, 2015

The Kings of Summer

This review is Spoiler-free.

In this summertime adventure in the great outdoors, three teenage boys, feeling oppressed by their parents and their lives, decide to build a house in the woods, and then run away from home to live there.

The kings. Patrick, Biaggio, and Joe.

Joe (Nick Robinson) came up with the idea. After his mother's death and his sister's marriage he is stuck living alone with his dad (Nick Offerman) and their relationship is nothing if not rocky. They both take out their frustration of life on each other. Patrick's (Gabriel Basso) parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) smother him with dorky and overbearing patronization so he follows Joe's lead. Biaggio (Moises Arias) is there too, but no one knows anything about him. He just followed them, like a mildly disturbing lost puppy, and neither of them have the heart or courage to tell him to get lost.

These three faithfully promise to live off the land, do things for themselves, be their own men, and make their own rules. It's a coming of age story, technically, but one that understands that independence or freedom alone is not adulthood, and a boy cannot become a man over a day, or even a summer, just by running away.

And having hair on your face definitely doesn't mean you're a man, especially if it looks that bad.

The film doesn't really say much, particularly on the front of how to come of age. In fact I'm fairly sure that it never literally says anything. No words are spoken that say anything beyond what the character speaking them is thinking. But it shows us a lot. It's harder to decipher that way, but feels more organic, and allows you to draw your own conclusions. Like these guys who go into the woods searching for something, and end up finding it in the exact opposite way the meant to.

The main portion of this movie is filled with what you might call "filler" of the guys exploring and having fun in the woods, often with spectacular slow motion or close-up macro shots. You may call it "filler" -- but watching it (especially the second time) I easily appreciated the wonder put into those sequences showing off the beauty of the earth and the bond of friendship. Or, in the later ones, the fact that no matter where you are -- woods or in civilization -- the pain of life is still the same.

The parental units. Y'all know that Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally are real-life married, right? Fun fact.

Performances are all-around good, with plenty of humor and heartbreak and everything in between. Nick Offerman, the real pro of the lot, stands out with the best performance, but the boys are not far behind. Moises Arias is mainly reserved for offbeat comic relief, though is not without his moment. Of the other two, Nick Robinson is certainly the main character, but not by too much and Gabriel Basso gets plenty to chew on as well. They are only occasionally lacking in some of the more intense moments, when the filming style gets in the way instead of enhancing the performance. Then occasionally they are quite good, both (with the help of some spot-on writing) nailing a moment or two that almost anyone could identify with.

The film is not without its darker side of teenage angst, and also has a light, sharp and care-free side of fun, jokes, and great sarcastic style. It's funny and thoughtful, sometimes simultaneously. At times you can practically feel the movie thinking, but it remembers to put the entertainment first, and does that with style and experience. The plot is built and paced classically with zero slip-ups and no obvious holes. It's not a huge save-the-world kind of deal, but it's involving. unpredictable, and enjoyable. Plus it has an all-around immaculate, detailed beauty to it that is very original and a pleasure to watch.

It's fairly ethereal... even with the guys goofing off in it all...

For lack of a better way to explain it, The Kings of Summer is romantic about life and the mysteries and complexities it holds. It relishes the smaller moments, and while exploring the woods and the human heart alike, it sincerely considers, but lightly; and never draws any definite conclusions about these things. Maybe it's because it's missing something, and maybe also because some things -- like forgiveness, love, life, and creation -- are too wonderful to be diminished by being put into words. This story is both more and less than your average coming of age adventure.

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