Movie Review: The Kings of Summer

Stay out of my territory.
In the opening of “The Kings of Summer,” Joe (Nick Robinson) stand in the shower with a hairdo reminiscent of Ferris Bueller. Yet, while he is at a similar age, Joe is nothing like Bueller, he can’t fit in with anybody.

“The Kings of Summer” is a lovable film that some annoying critic will probably call “The king of summer movies!” it’s a childhood fantasy rooted in reality. It’s like “Moonrise Kingdom” except here you don’t have to pay as much attention to what color clothing everyone is wearing.

“The Kings of Summer” takes place in a small Ohio town that’s a little too picturesque to be a small Ohio town. Most high school movies take place over the course of one day, usually on either the very first or the very last day of school. “The Kings of Summer” instead takes place during the entire summer between freshman and sophomore year. Here, the humiliation of high school you try to forget about lasts more than one day. And there’s no getting out of it anytime soon.

Joe can’t take it anymore, and he is especially affected by his sad, lonely father Frank (Nick Offerman, who brings three dimensional misery to the role), He takes his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and mysterious weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias) to build a house and start a new life in the middle of the woods. Their new isolated home could best be described as an Island of Misfit Toys. All three kids deserve much praise. Robinson carries the entire movie. But the biggest standout is Arias, who I believe will become a big star after this. As the characters preconceived notions about Biaggio start to dissipate, so do the audience’s. Perhaps part of what is cool about Biaggio is how little is explained about him. For example, he is shown speaking Spanish to his father, who speaks back to him in English. That could mean any number of things.

For a film with such a small budget, “The Kings of Summer” sure does make good use of it. It portrays the forest with the kind of pristine beauty you’d usually only find from Terrence Malick. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is as obsessed with the forest as he is with telling this story the whole way through. The small character-driven moments are of equal importance. Perhaps one of the most important moments in the film is when Frank argues with a Chinese food delivery man about the size of the Wontons that he’s given him. It takes a lot to say so much about a person by what they think about a bowl of soup. Not to mention when he finally eats that giant wonton, the sadness and desperation just creepily make it seem like the infamous octopus scene from “Oldboy.”

“The Kings of Summer” is certainly one of the most consistently surprising films I have seen in theaters in a long time. For instance, there’s a predator in the woods that’s hinted at throughout, but it doesn’t end up doing what you thought it would do.

Besides “Ferris Bueller,” “The Kings of Summer” had me thinking of another great coming-of-age film from the 80s: “Stand By Me,” in that there is so much one can learn about themselves when separated from the rest of civilization. “The Kings of Summer” is a fairly real look at the teenage years of one’s life. It doesn’t rap everything up in a pretty bow. In the end, everyone seems happy, but not everyone gets what they want.