The epitome of carefree teenage rebellion is captured in The Kings of Summer, not just in the method of the mischief but in spirit as well.
It’s a consistently amusing coming-of-age comedy that deals with familiar themes yet avoids predictable suburban cliches. This quirky and passionate wish-fulfillment fantasy – which feels random in some spots and calculated in others – that celebrates youthful exuberance while also exposing school-age naivete.
The story takes place in Ohio, where a teenager named Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is dreading the thought of another summer of nagging from his nitpicking widower father (Nick Offerman). After stumbling into the wilderness not far from home, he hatches an outrageous plan – to build a house from scratch in the middle of nowhere and live off the land for a few months to escape parental supervision.
But Joe needs an accomplice, so he recruits Patrick (Gabriel Basso), a high school wrestler who likewise is fed up with his parents and their outdated rules. Also along for the ride is Biaggio (Moises Arias), a pint-sized loner who becomes more of a mascot than anything else. As they heist the supplies to turn their dream to reality, they are unaware of the problems that lie ahead.
Rookie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, working from a screenplay by fellow newcomer Chris Galletta, isn’t as concerned with breaking new ground as he is with putting a fresh twist on existing ideas.
For example, the film makes the parents into more than just one-dimensional buffoons for the most part, instead portraying them as misguided and overbearing but still concerned and reasonable. It doesn’t hurt that Offerman steals his scenes with a brilliant deadpan approach in one of the funniest performances in recent memory.
Meanwhile, the film’s three young stars develop a convincing rapport that help to smooth over the film’s rough edges, even if the eccentric Arias could have been more effective in smaller doses.
The Kings of Summer is refreshing and surprising, charming and poignant, with just enough plausibility in its exaggerated concept to keep moviegoers rooting for its trio of teenage heroes. There’s an honesty to these characters that is certain to appeal to viewers of a similar age, while parents will hope it doesn’t give them any big ideas.
Rated R, 93 minutes.