Break out the acne cream, put on that tenth anniversary Postal Service album and get ready to pine over that cute girl or guy next door, folks! I’m officially declaring summer 2013 as the summer of the coming-of-age movie.
This season has already seen Jeff Nichols’ awesome Mud, and Tiger Eyes, an adaptation of a Judy Blume novel. Still to come is Jim Rash and Nat Faxon’s promising-looking The Way, Way Back. And this weekend sees the nationwide release of The Kings of Summer, a comedy about a trio of teenage boys who set out to make their own way in life, free from their parents, and to (you guessed it) learn what it means to be men.
The Kings of Summer, the first full-length feature from Jordan Vogt-Roberts (and first-time screenwriter Chris Galletta), is a solidly funny comedy featuring a great cast of comedians and comic actors, as well as three impressive performances from its young stars. It’s not a perfect movie, and makes a few rookie mistakes, but it’s entertaining, and hits on real emotional truths of what it’s like to be a teenager.
Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are best friends. Both of them have difficult relationships with their parents. Joe’s dad (Parks and Recreation’s Nick Offerman) is a widower who expresses his loneliness by pushing his children away from him. Patrick has the opposite problem with his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), who are loving to the point of suffocation. The boys decide to run away, build a house in the woods and be totally self-sufficient. Along for the ride is class weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias) who’s prone to making bizarre statements and prancing around with a sword.
The Kings of Summer has a kind of obsession with manhood, and this is where many of its funniest moments come from. Most of the characters either represent an example of manhood, or are desperately trying to be recognized as men. Joe and Patrick are constantly looking for ways to prove themselves living in the woods, most of which take the form of silly wilderness survival tactics that only teenage boys would think were true tests of manhood. One great running gag has Joe and Biaggio hunting for food, but quickly giving up and dumpster diving behind a nearby Boston Market instead.
This movie also sports a great supporting cast. Anyone who keeps up with the comedy world will find plenty to get excited about. In addition to Offerman, Mullally and Jackson (an underused great) the ensemble sports Community’s Allison Brie, Kumail Nanjiani and Buster Bluth himself, Tony Hale. These folks really bring a hilarious added dimension to the film, and with actors of this quality you’d expect nothing less.
As with all coming-of-age movies, The Kings of Summer eventually has to get serious. When it does, it lapses into a disappointing predictability. As it comes time for the heartfelt life-lesson portion of our show, subtle themes, like the similarities between Joe and his dad, are made as obvious and heavy-handed as a sledgehammer hitting a railroad spike. Rising conflicts between the boys are of the easy variety (girls, what else?), than anything more surprising or challenging. It’s times like these that this movie really feels like it was made by first-timers.
Although the plot of The Kings of Summer is fairly unremarkable, the movie has plenty of things to recommend it. It’s got a brilliantly funny cast, smart, witty dialogue, and its observations of teenage boyhood feel genuine. The pros definitely outweigh the cons, although the movie’s partially-wasted potential is a little bit of a letdown.
Take a Drink: at every mention of the word “manhood,” “man,” or “men.”
Take a Drink: for each fantasy sequence.
Do a Shot: Wontons
Do a Shot: Ciabatta bread
Drink: for the entire time Allison Brie’s boyfriend sings to Nick Offerman.