The Kings of Summer is the cinematic equivalent of an Arctic-cold popsicle on a Sahara-hot day. Refreshing and satisfying but not overly sentimental, the film taps into the frustrations of adolescence with warmth and wit.
Its also a confident calling card for first-time features director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, novice screenwriter Chris Galletta and a trio of young stars who may lose the cloak of anonymity after this. Indeed, theyve set a high bar for themselves.
Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are Ohio high-school sophomores and best friends who, facing the end of the school year and another summer in the company of clueless parents, decide to run away from home. But theyre not heading to the bright, beckoning lights of L.A. or New York. Instead, theyre going deep into the local woods to build their own house where they can live out their Boys Life dreams.
Tagging along is oddball classmate Biaggio (Moises Arias), a short spark plug of a boy for whom every day seems to be a vacation from mundane reality. Pushing Biaggios impish personality to a comical extreme, Arias steals every scene hes in.
Everythings ready for the most perfect summer ever, but theres one thing from Joes old world that he cant shake: his crush on Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the girl from school whos going out with someone else.
Of course, the boys fantasies of splendid isolation dont go quite as planned, but along the way they learn a thing or two about themselves and their friendship.
Vogt-Roberts, channeling both Stand By Me-era Rob Reiner and the collected works of Wes Anderson, manages to capture the essence of young guyhood without turning the new digs into a would-be frat house. Theres a sweet, throwback quality to The Kings of Summer, as if every testosterone-fueled, teen-slob film since Porkys never existed.
As with Jeff Nichols more dramatic Mud, Kings is a deeply shaded though comedic portrait of male adolescence. That makes the one misstep a broad, one-dimensional caricature of the parents (especially Patricks) as being so completely divorced from their childrens dissatisfaction a little disappointing.
But thats a small quibble. Like last years surprise summer hit Moonrise Kingdom, The Kings of Summer deserves to be the non-star-driven, non-special effects-riddled must-see movie of the season.
And, unlike a popsicle, it wont melt from your memory so quickly.