Tuesday, October 1, 2013

FI: The Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer
US, 2013
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Is there such a thing as a perfect movie? I'm not sure "perfect" can work in any realistic sense, not when reception is so context-dependent. There are always "flaws," limitations, false notes, or characters/plot threads that won't work for everyone. And just yesterday we talked about the role expectations play in how we perceive a film, which suggests that perfection is a conditional thing. The Kings of Summer, the debut feature from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta, is not a perfect film, by any means. It definitely skews male and hits a few beats too many times, and some people won't enjoy its quirky sensibility. But like most very good films, it builds enough goodwill to let you overlook its flaws and false notes, provided you can get on its wavelength.

High school freshman Joe (Nick Robinson) lives in small-town Ohio, and chafes under the strict rule of his widowed, no-nonsense father (the always-welcome Nick Offerman). His best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) can't get out from under his bubbly, embarrassing, overprotective parents (Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson). One night, after a lakeside party breaks up, Joe finds himself running through the woods with misfit kid Biaggio (Mois├ęs Arias), and the two stumble upon a remote, hidden clearing. There, Joe gets Patrick and Biaggio to help him build a makeshift house out of whatever materials they can purchase and scrounge, and the three run away from home to live as self-sufficient "men" for the summer. As we watch the boys' bond grow and be tested by—what else?—a girl (Erin Moriarty), the boys' families and town police begin searching for them in vain.

The film has a breezy, comedic tone that verges on absurdism at times (Vogt-Roberts has a history with both Funny or Die and Comedy Central), and delightful turns from its leads and supporting/bit players like Offerman, Mullally, Eugene Cordero, and Kumail Nanjiani. It tries a little too hard to make Arias's Biaggio into the breakout character, though he largely remains funny in spite of that. Galletta's script admirably captures the rebellious attitude and illusory self-reliance common to teenage boys, and feels nostalgic despite being set in the present day—one or two more modern references aside, this could easily be happening in the late '80s or '90s. The plot is somewhat obvious, and large developments are telegraphed early on, but I enjoyed myself enough that these things didn't bother me. Vogt-Roberts is a confident director, and Ross Riege's cinematography does well translating the characters' emotions into visuals. I found the whole thing an entertaining, engaging examination of masculinity, friendship, and familial love. It may not be perfect, but it more than met my expectations and left me with a warm, satisfied glow. What more can you ask?

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