Movie Review: The Kings of Summer
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Reviewed: 5 June 2013
Like "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom," Jordan Vogt-Roberts's debut film "The Kings of Summer" announces the arrival of a fantastic new storyteller in cinema while at the same time delivering a wonderful coming-of-age tale with memorable characters. One sign of a great film is the desire to spend more time with the characters. I wanted more of the world of Berea, Ohio and its gorgeous forest where a young trio builds a makeshift home in the woods to get away from their families and seek out something fresh and new.
Joe (Nick Robinson) struggles with being fifteen, with the loss of his mother, as well as a strained relationship with his father (Nick Offerman). Joe longs for Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a friendly classmate, to be more than just a friend. His best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) has parents who lovingly smother him, and he too wants a way out. Biaggio (Moises Arias) is last to join up and seems the perennial outsider, the kid who turns up whenever least expected and slowly forms an unbreakable bond with the other two. The plan? Build a home out in the middle of the woods in an impossibly beautiful spot. Run away from home, responsibilities, and family pain. Form something new and good out in the woods. Survive on their own wits. Truly be the kings of summer. To say more would ruin the remarkable pleasure of this film.
Vogt-Roberts shoots this film with an almost Malickian eye for nature with sunlight streaming through trees, animals moving through the forest floor, and trees swaying in the summer breeze. He punctuates scenes by including specific shots of animals, foreshadowing what is to come. The degree of difficulty for this kind of film is high: the story of the kids in the woods must be believable and the stress of the parents back in civilization must be palpable. Vogt-Roberts balances teen emotions quite well, and the film seems to have excised all of the typical conversations and moments of this genre going instead for something deeper. The soundtrack is remarkable, and the teens sound like teens.
And it is funny. I think it is the funniest film of the year with a performance that caught me completely off guard by Moises Arias as Biaggio. Nick Offerman gives a fine performance as the dad, lost and isolated. A few other familiar faces deliver strong scenes (Offerman's wife Megan Mullally; Marc Evan Jackson; Alison Brie) and a conversation with a delivery man (Kumail Nanjiani) stretches on forever in hilarity.
What distinguishes "The Kings of Summer" is its tenderness. Youth, like summer, is fleeting; in this film, the adult world offers little in terms of wonder, beauty, or fulfillment to these young boys. The desire to achieve some sort of autonomy, sort sort of separation from parents and school can serve as a metaphor for growing-up and coming-of-age. Or, it can just be the story of a ferociously fun and weird summer for three young men.
Why did I react so strongly and positively to this film? Why did I find myself camping in the wilderness once a month from age eleven through eighteen with my Boy Scout Troop? Camaraderie of friends without the judgements that so often came at school? The satisfaction of building a fire, setting up a shelter, or cooking a meal? The ability to curse freely? The beauty of isolated nature? The refuge that it symbolized? The quiet and stillness? I think all of it played a part. Time spent with nature and away from society is also time spent creating society. Was I my idealized self in the woods away from nearly everyone with only a few friends and mentors to guide me? Was that time crucial to my own development? Will I always look back at that time with wonder?
I am going to end this review with a quotation by Thoreau from "Walden" which I think is particularly apt for "The Kings of Summer" and its offerings. Thoreau states, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
I could not recommend this film more highly. "The Kings of Summer" is the best film that I have seen in 2013. It sucks the marrow out of life. Seek it out.