Joe Toy (Robinson) and Patrick Keenan (Basso) think their lives couldn’t be any worse. Stuck at home with their frustrating parents, Joe’s single dad Frank (Offerman) is awkward, grumpy and embarrasses him in front of the girl he likes, while Patrick’s parents (Mullally and Jackson) dote and pamper him to the ends of the earth.
Then one day walking home from a party, they hatch a plan. Stumbling on a open plot in the middle of the forest, Joe wants the boys to move in, and joined by class wildcard Biaggio (Arias), the three kids come up with such a wonderfully over the top scheme, it’s just so ridiculous it actually works.
Packing a bag of clothes, canned goods and pasta, the boys run away from home to build a house in amongst the trees, scavenging materials from a nearby residential development and taking most of Frank’s tools. After constructing quite an impressive structure, the trio find what almost any teenage boy yearns for; freedom. Going hunting every day (though most of the time they return home with roast chicken from a nearby fast food joint) and growing ‘beards’, everything’s going just to plan, until after inviting friends from school over for the night, including Joe’s crush Kelly (Moriarty), tensions start to rise between the boys, while the police are starting to scale up their inadequate efforts to find the trio too.
While the story and script are terrifically engaging, this is a more of a character focussed film, rewarding the audience for investing your time in their development rather than offering an expansive plot. From top to bottom, the actors turn in magnificent performances, bringing so much life to the fantastic breadth of characters. Nick Offerman almost steals the show and is hilarious as his now trademark grumpy middle-aged man. But it isn’t a frustrating performance; Frank’s intentions are only for good and he’ll charm you in spades as he just doesn’t quite know how to handle a boy who wants to spread his wings. Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson are marvellous too, and feel like they’ve been so happily married for an eternity, so proud and so in love with their boy.
The Kings of Summer was always going to live or die by the performances of the young leading men, but Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias return director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ faith in spades. Feeling so natural amongst each other and all sharing fantastic chemistry, putting the trio in improv before the shoot clearly helped a lot. Alongside the script, the boys were encouraged to riff off each other and keep rolling with the scene even if something goes wrong. They brings a dynamism and energy to the narrative and even Moises Arias’ Biaggio, who borders on being a little too ridiculouss, gets away with it.
The honesty, charm and authenticity of the dialogue should be at great credit to first time writer Chris Galletta too. Mutual friends of Galletta and Vogt-Roberts were trying to introduce the pair for months before at last each got the idea, and upon reading the script it’s no surprise he jumped to join the project.
The Kings of Summer is a brilliant, endearing and engaging coming of age comedy. Shot on location in Ohio and made for under $2m, Vogt-Roberts and DOP Ross Riege have done a really fantastic job getting it to the screen as the film with such beauty. The film highlights the power of friendship and liberation, yet also reinforces that you should never forget how much your parents love you too, even if they don’t always seem to show it. The Kings of Summer is hugely rewarding and Jordan Vogt-Roberts has crafted a captivating film which is right up there with the movies it’s inspired by. For me this is not only the funniest film of the year, but also the best film of the year to date, and I’d be surprised if anything manages to top it come December.< p>(This review is a re-post from our coverage of the Sundance London Film and Music Festival 2013 earlier in the year. The Kings of Summer hits cinemas across the UK today.)