Published Jun 06, 2013Midway through surprisingly hilarious coming-of-age comedy The Kings of Summer, Biaggio (Moises Arias), the bizarrely analytical and abstract member of a trio of teenaged pals, tells Joe (Nick Robinson), the ersatz leader, "I think I'm gay." When Joe asks him to qualify this, being suspect of the unlikely revelation, Biaggio says that his lungs fill up with fluid every time the season changes. Confused, Joe says, "You're not gay; you have Cystic Fibrosis."
This is just one example of the many offbeat, entirely random discussions and one-liners consistently delivered throughout this concise allegorical projection of manhood. As Joe and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) flee the confines of their familial idiosyncrasy and disappointment by building a ramshackle house in the woods, living there for the summer, their attempts to hunt, build, bond and engage in various survivalist discussions mix practical plot progression with an ever-present, witty sense of humour.
It's a tone and trajectory present from the opening, which frame the film, quite subtly, as a conscious throwback, taking place in roughly the mid-'90s, when Street Fighter 2 for the SNES was popular. Similarly, this style of movie — one that has been eschewed largely for the raunchy and insular adult-boy comedy genre — is a throwback of sorts, playing more to the conventions of works from that time.
It has the wildly erratic worldview necessary for a comedy to work for anyone outside of the status quo while also demonstrating the heart and pathos required to transcend surface gags, saying something quite pointed about the contradictory and disconcerting nature of growing up.
As Joe and Patrick's parents (Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, respectively) desperately look for their missing children, vacillating between hilarious and memorable performances and the inevitable introspection and heartache of feeling like failed parents, the boys learn about the complexities of freedom. Eventually, after the trio establishes a rapport, which, based upon their Boston Market hunting methodology, is unsustainable, lust and passion impede when Joe invites his crush, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), to check out their house. And despite the whimsical impression that his fantasies imply, she ultimately takes a liking to Patrick instead.
Fortunately, The Kings of Summer is conscious about its presentation of gender difference as a volatile force. Kelly is ultimately the undoing — a metaphor for the complexities of life that intrude upon simplistic male bonding — but she's also the ultimate saviour and voice of reason, pointing out the impracticality of petty posturing and stubbornness, reintroducing harmony to the disorganized dynamic.
Though director Jordan Vogt-Roberts goes overboard with the musical montage for a large part of the film, his quick cuts, rapid pacing and deadpan sense of comedy sustain the visceral entertainment component necessary to sell what is ostensibly a lowbrow art film.
It makes the later, harsher narrative revelations and thematic discussion far more accessible for an audience that likely doesn't want to be reminded of how decimated they were when adulthood didn't turn out to be as exciting as they thought it would be. (eOne)