Title: The Kings of Summer
Director(s): Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Release Year: 2013
Life can be so rough when you’re a teenager. Girls or boys, parents, school, bullying; it all becomes such a struggle that all we’d really want to do is run away. You would want to find a new home with your friends and just grow up without anyone else to interfere. The Kings of Summer tries to convey this idea several times in what feels like 2 and a half hours but is really 93 incredibly tedious minutes. Now certain films have tried to show the adolescent fear of growing up or actual need to grow up and most of them just don’t end up having any lasting power. I could probably only pick a handful of movies (all of which are probably from the 80’s) that have truly succeeded in the actual experience of the angst and fun of adolescence. And as I’ve hinted at before this movie fails on almost every level to be something real.
The plot follows two teenagers (Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso) with their tag-along (Moises Arias) as they try to leave their homes that tie them down with the responsibilities of living with either a single father (Nick Offerman; who I wish knew better) or overbearing parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson). This leads the three boys towards a spot in the woods where they can create their own version of paradise. No adults, no rules, no drama, just the boys and a hell of a lot of fun. Until we sit through the expected next step of taking on the responsibilities of being on your own and taking care of not just yourself, but the people around you. Girls will always be around to just ruin the bro time you’re going to have and there’s nothing scarier than fighting over a girl, am I right? Well let’s get to the part I hate…
Based off the template of a mixture of any John Hughes film and The Goonies, originality doesn’t seem to be this movies strong suit. We take archetypes from the teenagers who want their independence to the girls who just have other interests than one boy, the movie can’t focus on what it wants to be. The filmmakers decide that they will bring in as many cliches as possible as long as the audience understands that they’re looking at the average teenage experience which must mean it belongs to everyone. This movie even decides to take a rehash of The Hangover trio and turn them into kids. I can imagine the writers pitching the movie getting denied a budget until they added “quirky tag along” and the producers heard registers go off in their head.
If there is anything more irritating than a script that doesn’t care, its child actors that don’t have any charisma. All the adult roles are given actors that can carry a scene with believability and can act with an average sensibility without feeling like mediocre acting but aren’t given enough material to work off of. Alison Brie gets to act worried about her immature brother and a relationship inept father, Nick Offerman is told to eat an oversized wonton in an attempt to be some sort of metaphor about biting off more than you can chew and even worse, Megan Mullally is just told to be overbearing and annoying. I understand this is a movie from the kids’ perspective but they literally couldn’t give depth to any of the actors that could actually handle it.
Now I’ll give The Kings of Summer credit in that, there is the occasional moment of truth in the irritating nature of these kids. The lack of a Mother would have been an interesting concept if it didn’t feel shoehorned into a movie that was all over the place. Arias is occasionally funny and doesn’t ever come into the movie as anything more but a joke machine yet stays effective. Humour and drama are well balanced within the run time and the two leads are usually given equal screen time despite the fact that its obviously Robinsons’ movie.
I was fairly excited to see a heartwarming comedy about three kids discovering themselves and adulthood in the middle of nowhere. I’m not always interested in these types of movies but I know they exist for a reason and when they’re good, they are really good. But The Kings of Summer forgets about focus. You can throw in as many heavy-handed metaphors as you like but when it doesn’t forward the plot or say anything that isn’t outward told to us by characters in the film, it needs to be thrown out. Unfortunately, the movie would probably be left at a runtime of 25 minutes and people would catch on that it would be a waste of time. I really wish I knew beforehand.