AIFF 2013: “The Kings of Summer” Review – by Daniel Rester

The Kings of Summer Review

by Daniel Rester

             One of the big surprises for me at the 12th Annual Ashland Independent Film Festival was The Kings of Summer. Not knowing anything about the film going in, I found myself very satisfied with it coming out. But I’m not sure knowing bits about it would have even made a difference. Set for release at the end of May, Summer is one of those films that has “summer sleeper hit” written all over it.

            The movie follows Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias), three teenage boys who decide to build a house (and hide out in it) in the middle of the woods during their summer break. The reason: Joe is fed up with his father, Frank (Nick Offerman), and believes that he and his friends should be free of parents and approach manhood in the woods. Also in the mix is Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a girl whom Joe likes. As things move along, Summer alternates between the relationships of the boys and Kelly and the searching that Frank and other parents do in order to find the kids.

            Summer is rooted in familiar ideas about teenage angst, which causes thoughts of déjà vu from time to time, but the film ultimately has a fresh feeling about it. Both writer Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (making his feature filmmaking debut, though he has worked on TV quite a bit) deserve credit for this. Galletta’s screenplay may contain some clichés, but the writing as a whole rings true. The writer provides sharp, humorous moments, while never forgetting about his characters or their struggles along the way. There is also a certain quirkiness to the script at times. The ending result of the writing makes Summer seem to have some of the same DNA as Stand by Me (1986), Superbad (2007), and a few of John Hughe’s films.

             Vogt-Roberts treats Galletta’s screenplay with care by providing satisfying visuals, allowing the story to flow well onto the screen, and directing the various actors with skill. Some of the more memorable moments that the filmmaker stirs up include a scene involving pipe drumming and another scene that involves a Russian Roulette-like game of Monopoly. But really every scene seems to have a certain level of passion coming from Vogt-Roberts, while he also never tries to oversell things.

Ross Riege’s cinematography (which has a beautiful focus on mixes of green hues and natural lighting) and Terel Gibson’s editing expertly aid Vogt-Roberts with the overall presentation – even allowing for a few great moments that have a Terrence Malick-like feel. Also adding to the flavor of the film is the original music by Ryan Miller and the various featured tracks. The movie alternates between such genres as rap, rock, trance, etc., which continuously adds more spark to the film.

The acting in Summer is also believable and entertaining. Robinson, Basso, and Moriarty provide most of the heart in the film, while Offerman is absolutely hilarious as Frank. However, Arias delivers the most memorable performance as Biaggio, an oddball who says many nonsensical and funny things. These five actors all have perfect chemistry, too. Many of the other actors also do well in supporting bits, though Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson (as Patrick’s parents) make their characters come off as caricatures.

            Summer doesn’t always fully work, but when it does it is very good. It does have a few obvious “teenage stories,” but the film separates itself by having a sweet script, focus on filmmaking techniques, and strong acting. It may play better for male audience members (because of the character focus), but I would encourage anyone to go see it. As said, Summer has the makings of becoming a sleeper hit (it just gives off that vibe). But for those who are able to catch it this summer, I believe they will walk away with a smile.

 

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B+).

 

More information on The Kings of Summer is available at IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2179116/

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