“The Kings of Summer”

Susan Granger’s review of “The Kings of Summer” (CBS Films)


Amid the glut of action-packed popcorn pictures and recycled comedy franchises, this refreshingly touching and genuinely funny low-budget, independent dramedy stands tall.

The coming-of-age story revolves around three conflicted teenage boys – Joe (Nick Robinson) and
Patrick (Gabriel Basso), best friends since childhood, and their odd, eccentric tagalong, Biaggio (Moises Arias).  School’s out, leaving them in limbo, caught between tantalizing freedom and imprisonment by their overbearing parents. So they decide to run away from home, build their own ramshackle cabin in an idyllic grove, located deep in the nearby woods, and live off the land. It’s not too difficult to borrow tools, scavenge and salvage materials from construction sites and dumpster-dive for scraps, particularly when there’s a Boston Market conveniently within walking distance.  Wielding axes and swords, they are intrepid adventurers.

But, while they border on maturity, these naïve adolescents still have some important life lessons to learn. There’s plenty of drama in Chris Galletta’s episodic script. Conflict surfaces most often between gawky Joe and his cranky, still grieving widower father (Nick Offerman), plus there’s an interlude of unrequited love which threatens the boys’ friendship and tests their loyalty, along with quirky Monopoly mayhem.

The film’s vivid, bucolic montages, revealing them racing through pastoral fields, climbing trees,
splashing in the river, jumping off quarry cliffs and staging an impromptu jam session, banging on pipes, were captured when director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (TV’s “Funny or Die”) took his actors into the woods near Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and filmed them – just fooling around, improvising – enhanced by off-tempo music and off-kilter editing.

Reminiscent of “Stand By Me,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” even the similarly-themed “Mud,” it’s a simple, yet timeless, emotionally engaging, irresistibly likeable fantasy with a supporting cast that includes Megan Mulally, Marc Evan Jackson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Alison Brie, Erin Moriarty and Thomas Middleditch.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Kings of Summer” is a compelling 8, cleverly capturing a poignant, formative interlude.