out of Five
Running time: 93
Playing like a modern day Stand By Me, this is a hugely enjoyable, acutely observed and frequently hilarious coming-of-age drama with a delightful script, likeable characters and terrific performances from a note-perfect cast.
What's it all about?
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, The Kings of Summer (originally titled Toy's House) is set in present-day smalltown America and stars Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso (from The Big C) as best friends Joe Toy and Patrick Keenan, who are both keen to escape their parents (Nick Offerman as gruffly sarcastic widower Frank Toy, Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson as the over-attentive Keenans). While leaving a party in the woods, Joe and recently-acquired weirdo friend Biaggio (Moises Arias) stumble upon an idyllic secluded clearing, whereupon Joe impulsively decides he's going to build a house there and live in it.
With Patrick roped in, the three boys set to their task, borrowing and stealing materials wherever they can. Once the house is assembled, they move in, ignoring the fact that their concerned parents think they've run away from home. However, events take an unexpected turn when Joe decides the place needs a woman's touch and invites class crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) to visit the house.
First-timer Jordan Vogt-Roberts gets terrific performances from his young cast and the friendship between Robinson and Basso is both believable and touching, with non-blinking Arias constantly injecting amusing out-of-nowhere notes of weirdness from the sidelines (‘I don't really consider myself as belonging to either gender’). The adult cast are equally good, particularly Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman, who doesn't stray too far from his wonderful Ron Swanson TV persona and nabs all the best lines, while there's strong support from Alison Brie (as Joe's sister) and Mary Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch as a pair of inept local cops.
Chris Galletta's wonderful script delivers a powerful hit of childhood nostalgia, perfectly capturing the thrill of the boys' first taste of adolescent freedom and their often comical attempts to fend for themselves (there's a delightful moment when Patrick questions Joe on where exactly he and Biaggio have been getting all the chicken they've been eating). In addition, the dialogue is both sharply observed and laugh-out-loud funny while still feeling realistic, while the scenes between the parents and their kids are likely to strike squirm-inducing chords of recognition.
The film looks utterly gorgeous throughout, courtesy of Ross Riege's idyllic cinematography; he also proves himself a dab-hand with a slow-motion montage sequence. On top of that, Vogt-Roberts orchestrates a number of powerfully emotional scenes, most notably a sequence that brilliantly captures the agony of adolescent heartbreak.
Emotionally engaging, beautifully shot and laugh-out-loud funny, The Kings of Summer is a hugely entertaining coming-of-age drama that marks director Jordan Vogt-Roberts out as a definite talent to watch. It's also one of the best films of the year. Unmissable.