Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The Kings of Summer - Chicago Critics Film Festival Review
The debut film from Jordan Vogt-Roberts (who previously directed episodes of Funny or Die Presents for TV) was a hit when it played at Sundance earlier this year, and it's easy to see why. The Kings of Summer is a crowd pleaser that earns its positive buzz: funny and sweet with good performances and great photography. Plus, because it's a smaller "indie" movie (though it's being distributed by CBS Films), it's the kind of thing that audiences can feel good about discovering for themselves and turning into a word-of-mouth hit.
Nick Robinson plays Joe Toy, a high school freshman who's grown pretty miserable at home. Since his mother died and his sister (Alison Brie) moved away, it's just been Joe and his dad (Nick Offerman), and they're not getting along. Joe's best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso of Super 8) has his own problems at home: his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are constantly around, gently nagging and narrating his every move. Finally, the boys have had enough and Joe suggests they move out to the middle of the woods for the summer. Along with Biaggio (Moises Arias), the weird kid at school, the boys build their own house and run away from home, vowing to live off the land and keep their location a secret. All easier said than done, and when Joe's friend Kelly (Erin Moriarty) shows up, things get complicated.
Not that they behave at all in a grown up way. Joe may feel emasculated because he's told he's too young to drink, but he is too young to drink. His father teases and belittles him, yes, but Joe is also behaving immaturely. And his big plan to run away is the furthest thing from an adult reaction one could have. Therein lies the cleverness of the movie, in which characters attempt to live "authentic" lives but do so with mostly hypocrisy. It's not all indie movie cuteness. It's not Little Miss Sunshine. This is a movie that has some ideas.
The breakout character of the movie will undoubtedly be Moises Arias' Biaggio, because he gets all the best laughs and is memorable in his committed oddness. The character is a miscalculation, though, because he exists only for that purpose -- he's so out-there that he breaks the reality of the film. That's not to say it's a movie too caught up with realism, but there are elements of fantasy (like the building of a two story house from three teenagers who have demonstrated no aptitude for carpentry) that we have to accept or else there is no movie, and then there are elements of fantasy that break the film's spell. Biaggio is a funny character and Arias is great in the movie, but every time he speaks it's like Brick Tamland wandered into frame. The jokes become self-conscious, laid on top of the movie instead of springing from within it. That's a nitpick, though, because the character is very funny and the movie still works.
There's little doubt that movies like Moonrise Kingdom and Into the Wild will be brought up a lot in conjunction with The Kings of Summer when it comes out in a few months. I guess that's fair, since there are shades of both in the movie, but Kings of Summer is still its own thing -- a film made with beauty, personality and, for a first-time feature director, a lot of confidence. It deserves to be the breakout indie success of the summer, when audiences can take a break from superheroes and space battles and spend some quiet time in the woods, hanging out at Toy's house, eating some Boston Market.