"I met a dog the other day that taught me how to die."
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' feature film debut is a charming, idyllic teen film about boys of summer, running away, and discovering oneself. The Kings of Summer (aka Toy's House) has all the hallmarks of male adolescence and treats the personal material with a touching maturity and emotional effectiveness. It's very much a nostalgic yet contemporarily relevant film for today's youth with a Stand by Me meets The Goonies feel for the YouTube generation.
Nick Robinson stars as the disillusioned, disaffected fourteen-year-old Joe Toy, fed up with his miserable, widowed father, played by the hilariously deadpan Nick Offerman, and his antics. He and his buddies, Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and the wonderfully bizarre Biaggio (Moisés Arias), hatch a plan to build their own ramshackle cabin of a house and live deep in the woods of suburban Ohio. What happens next is a summer they'll surely never forget.
This is a story full of honest moments we experience between child and adulthood. Lingers of independence and hints of first love fill the screen. Vogt-Roberts takes a Terence Malick type approach to framing the outdoor landscapes, natural vistas and scenery, while injecting non sequitur moments and playful montages of boys being boys.
Chris Galletta's script balances scenes of immature humour with touching portrayals of true friendship. It slowly becomes an intimate family film full of charming supporting character performances by the likes of Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Megan Mullally, and a host of many other comedians who inject fresh comic humour and genuine laughs.
While mostly light fare, The Kings of Summer proves itself as a fun, quirky, coming of age film, told earnestly about a specific moment in youth, growing up, and becoming men. Like classic films about boys and friendship, it manages to thoughtfully capture and contrast the pains of growing up with the recklessness and naïvety of youth on the screen.
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