The Kings of Summer concerns three teenagers who decide the only way they can get past their burdensome parents is to run away from home and build their own house in the woods. The idea sounds misguided, unless you know something about the parents of these kids.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is stuck at home with his prickly father Frank (Nick Offerman at his icy best). Frank can barely let a minute pass without offering some withering criticism. Embittered by the death of his wife, Joe’s mother, Frank can make even a simple Monopoly game seem like a predatory act.
Joe’s pal Patrick (Gabriel Basso) has also had it with his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) but for a different reason. They are so overly affectionate and protective that they’ve left their son with hives on his belly from one too many “healing”wraps.
As for the parents of Biaggio (Moises Arias), it’s hard to tell if this lad has a mother or father at all. From his incessant wielding of a machete to his half-baked idea of ransom notes (don’t ask why), it appears that he is actually the offspring of extraterrestrials.
The three decide to live off the land, even if their skills as hunter-gatherers are wanting. Their carpentry, which consists of swiping raw materials from nearby construction sites, also leaves something to be desired.
They also leave their parents without warning. Patrick’s folks think he has been kidnapped, but Joe’s dad suspects that kidnappers wouldn’t have left with hundreds of dollars of his money and a good deal of his house’s canned goods.
Thanks to the combination of the three lads’ shaky grasp of roughing it and Biaggio’s unpredictable behavior, rookie feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and screenwriter Chris Galletta (a former writer for David Letterman) effortlessly maximize the comic potential of these three young characters. It doesn’t hurt that Arias, while unafraid to make a complete fool of himself, projects just enough warmth to keep his character from seeming too cartoonish.
Galletta might have pulled off a pretty good comedy with just Offerman and Arias, buthe has also managed to create dozens of other memorable characters and situations out of what could have been a routine coming-of-age movie. As bemused cops investigating the lads’ disappearance, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch get as many laughs as the more eccentric characters in the film.
Thanks to Ross Riege’s gorgeous cinematography, it’s easy to see why the lads don’t want to leave the great outdoors. Galletta could be accused of trying too hard to populate his fictional work with oddballs, but Offerman manages to give Frank enough humanity to make viewers care if he ever reconciles with his frustrated son. He also has the rare gift for being able to get laughs simply by delivering expletives under his breath. Considering how dull it can get to watch movies where dozens of buildings explode without repercussions, this subtlety is a slight improvement.
The Kings of Summer 89 Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Erin Moriarty, Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson, Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Thomas Middleditch Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts Rating: Rated R for language and some teen drinking Running Time: 93 minutes