It has its charms, but it gets old. Kings of Summer has a few mere ingredients and change of scenery to make it marginally different from other coming of age tales. Three teenagers build their own house in the woods while on school break for the summer. The locale is Ohio, which certainly has roaming hills beauty. Two of the boys are normal characters, Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso). The third is a Napoleon Dynamite-like goofball named Biaggio (Moises Arias), who is the type to stand back quiet and not initiate a conversation. He responds with droll punchlines. Droll and quirky is the film’s modus operandi for comedy.
This summer adventure is prompted by the need to escape from the neurotic parents, all of them overdrawn. The boys seem to be from a David Gordon Green art film, but these parents are strictly boob tube caricatures. One of the parents comes off like a low-rent Zach Galifianakis.
I think these boys could have lived forever on their own had they been able to possess more money for emergencies and build better insulation to fend off the natural elements of the woods. I chuckled a few times watching these boys read a few library books on house building. Indeed they put together a house, although the shabby woodwork it’s pretty much what you’d expect from amateur carpenters.
The filmmakers have a nice eye for the woods, and a bouncy editing rhythm in the building of the house and gathering of food. The boys try to hunt for food, but occasionally give up and go to a Boston Market chain. They mess around like boys, jump down from high places, build traps, machete slash watermelon and perform experimental percussion music on a drain pipe. After establishing their fort they get some girls to visit, and inevitably, Joe and Patrick end up competing against each other for one of them. Biaggio gets a girl too, by hardly trying. A few blunders and rescue team searches later, (some) of the boys willingly return home.
There is talent here in “Kings of Summer,” but all I can do is give it a pat on the back. It didn’t festoon any great childhood memories for me. Sure, it was nice and all, but I didn’t find it terribly compelling. A few smart, outdoorsy teens in the audience will think otherwise and dig this film. But for me, it was slapdash and unfocused. For every scene that worked, there was another moment that belonged in a sitcom.
93 Minutes. Rated R (for swear words).
TEEN DRAMEDY / LIFE LESSONS / WEEKEND NOSTALGIA
Film Cousins: “Meatballs” (1979); “Stand by Me” (1986); “The Battle of Shaker Heights” (2003); “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004).