The Kings of Summer comes to the big screen with great anticipation after being plucked by CBS Films this past January at Sundance. The buzzed-about coming of age comedy, formerly known as Toy’s House on the festival circuit, was named appropriately after the title character Joe Toy who one summer abandons the frustrations of his teenage life to build a house in the woods with two friends.
What could easily have been a traditional story of a boy transitioning to adulthood is so much more as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts expertly pieces together a film that not only touches on the intricacies of childhood friendship and romance, but on the sensitivity of the world as we step outside our comfort zones and face the fears of the unknown.
High school best friends Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso), fed up with their overbearing and exceptionally odd parents, make a pact to escape their homes and live on their own in the forest. Along with the hilariously unpredictable Biaggio (Moises Arias), the trio forms a friendship that could never be broken – that is until a girl, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), gets in the way, and everything they had built to bring them closer to one another suddenly tears them apart.
Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, and Alison Brie round out the supporting cast, and there’s no shortage of humor throughout. The film is one of the funniest of the year, and Arias is responsible for a number of the scene-stealing jokes. The boy deserves to be placed on the upper echelon of quirky indie comedy sidekicks a la Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite. Moriarty, who could easily be the little sister of Kata Mara and Alison Lohman, does an impressive job given that her only other feature film credit is last year’s unwatched The Watch. She should be a young talent to keep an eye on. As should Basso, who plays the perfect in-betweener, settling on the fine line between jock and nerd.
The real breakout talent is the film is Robinson, whose no holds barred confidence is reminiscent to that of a young Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Which leads me to the audacious, but worthy, comparison of The Kings of Summer to that of a John Hughes version of Stand By Me. And much like a modern day version of John Knowles’ A Separate Peace (with one character even intentionally breaking another’s leg), the film does delve into a few darker moments where the rivalries of friends are put to the ultimate test. But in the end, it’s the true power of friendship that prevails. And the memories that last after this unforgettable summer will leave a lasting impact on these characters and the viewers alike.