Ah, summertime – is there any period of the year looked forward to with greater fervour by teenagers than the summer holiday? Well in the case of Joe Toy and his friend Patrick in The Kings of Summer, probably not, because it means more time spent in the company of their increasingly insufferable parents. Joe’s mother has died and he lives alone with his cynical, wisecracking father who has recently begun a relationship with a younger woman. Father and son do not get on. And then there are Patrick’s parents – gratingly cheery, passive aggressive goody two-shoes, whose condescension and general attitude towards their son would make a saint swear. Together with the intensely strange loner Biaggio, these young, hormonal males eventually reject their parents and society, and decide to build a house for themselves in the woods.
Enough plot. There are many things to like about this coming-of-age comedy; for one, it is intensely funny, both in terms of its dialogue and its visual gags. Both the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts (in his film-making debut) and his young actors have a seemingly innate ear for comic timing, and with great support from Nick Offerman (in a scene-stealing turn as Joe’s dad), the laughs just keep coming. The cinematography is gorgeous; some of the nature shots in particular are jaw-dropping and for a directorial debut Vogt-Roberts confidence does him great credit. Particular mention must also be given to newcomer Nick Robinson as Joe, whose assured screen presence and admirable comic versatility are put on display to great effect.
I enjoyed The Kings of Summer very much, it is a funny, well-made film if a somewhat shallow one. For every surprise and piece of originality there are at least as many clichés. The deadpan, cynical humour, although very funny, smothers any kind of emotion and genuine feeling that we would expect to shine through in this kind of film. Biaggio, I’m afraid to say, never rises above the level of caricature as far as characterisation is concerned and the central character, inevitably hung up over a very hot girl he knows in school, becomes ever more unlikeable as the story continues. The film’s stereotypically American and male approach to humour and relationships (I know this is a buddy movie but all the same a bit of variety would not have gone amiss) becomes intrusive at the film’s emotional climax due to its immaturity. As we get nearer to the final credits, it is saddening that the film does not take a bigger emotional leap but remains stagnant in its preference for (at times) sitcom-like humour instead of emotional depth. Its dry wit and lack of sentimentality is refreshing, even if its lack of heart is ultimately a disappointment.
Review by LiveWire Film Critic, James Martin (August ’13)