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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 7, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 23
Melancholic, hysterical Kings is a summertime gift
Arts & Entertainment
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Melancholic, hysterical Kings is a summertime gift

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE KINGS OF SUMMER
Opens June 7


The Kings of Summer probably shouldn't work. The central idea revolves around three teens, Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso), and odd-duck Biaggio (Moises Arias), who decide to build a house in the middle of the woods and live there without telling their parents. The first two aren't exactly happy with what's going on at home - Joe is upset at his father, Frank (Nick Offerman), while Patrick is so fed up with his own mom and dad (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) it's all he can do to remain in their presence without screaming.

Why shouldn't it work, you ask? Well, for one thing, after making the collective decision to strike out on their own without telling their parents - even though their town is a small one and their faces get plastered all over the news as 'missing' - no one seems remotely able to put the pieces together and find them. Second, the film's existential John Hughes-meets-Henry David Thoreau-meets-American Pie-meets-Wes Anderson nature can get a little silly, counting all the influences that inspired writer Chris Galletta's script and influenced Jordan Vogt-Roberts's direction akin to its own drinking game.

Be that as it may, The Kings of Summer is a certified joy that had me grinning ear-to-ear. Not only is the movie consistently amusing, filled with a seemingly never-ending series of laughs - some of which took me blissfully by surprise - the heart of the piece remains honest and true. Galletta doesn't go for easy sentiment, and Vogt-Roberts happily avoids drippy melodrama whenever he can, allowing Joe and Patrick to evolve from selfish teenagers to conscientious and resilient young adults with subtle simplicity. The end result speaks volumes, everything culminating in certifiably sublime fashion, yakking about the best of who we wish we were and the strength of character it takes to admit our shortcomings while also embracing those we love even as they exhibit their own failings.

RELATABLE JOE
As oftentimes selfish as he can be, I think the reasons this movie ended up working as well as it did for me was that I could relate to Joe, could understand his anger and angst. I felt like I knew where his pain was coming from, and while the things he's running from are hardly new or original, the spark simmering within him that causes him to take action (as misdirected as said action might be) was one I felt strange kinship with. In another life, and had things gone a bit differently, I could easily imagine myself making similar decisions once upon a time, and while I doubt I'd ever have left the comfort of my home and attempt to build my own in the middle of the forest, that doesn't mean that seed of angst-ridden doubt wasn't there.

It can also be a little puerile and unbelievable, and I did have to take a pretty big leap of faith to buy into the fact that this misbegotten trio could successfully build something so monumental without once being detected by the outside world. Additionally, a subplot involving Joe's crush on best friend Kelly (Erin Moriarty) and his enflamed jealousy when she starts having feelings for Patrick are all too obvious, delivered with a heavier hand than any other dramatic element inside the feature. Finally, as great as the adult actors are - especially Offerman, who is oftentimes hilarious - their collective one-dimensionality can grow tiresome, Galletta and Vogt-Roberts giving them shorter straws to work with than they undeniably deserve.

But these flaws aren't the killers they could have been, and the filmmakers more often than not hit just the right note as they inch things toward their delicately nuanced conclusion. The air of melancholy that intimately intermixes with the proceedings hits home, while the frequently hysterical jokes echo with an aching emotional subtext bordering on divine. The insights swirling with Galletta's script are readily apparent, and while the life lessons Joe learns aren't exactly new, they still manage a vivacious electrical potency I immediately responded to on a deeply personal level. As I already stated, The Kings of Summer shouldn't work, but the fact that it does is a divine summertime cinematic gift I couldn't be more thankful for.

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