The Kings of Summer (CBS Films, R)

kingsofsummer sqIn the end, it’s a fun movie that just doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

 

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I’ve long held a policy where, once I’ve decided for sure that I’m going to see a movie, I do my best to not learn anything in advance about that movie so that I go in with as few preconceived notions as possible. This has long served me well, and it came in particularly handy with the new film The Kings of Summer. It made my must-see list for being a hit at Sundance and featuring some people I like from TV—Parks & Recreation’s Nick Offerman, his ex-wife on that show and actual wife in real life Megan Mullally, and Mad Men and Community’s Alison Brie are all in the supporting cast. But this means that I didn’t actually know the premise when I sat down to watch the movie, and it is that ignorance that fed my enjoyment of the film.

So, I’ll tell you what I didn’t know: The Kings of Summer is about two teenagers, ringleader Joe (Nick Robinson) and good kid Patrick (St. Louis’s own Gabriel Basso), who get fed up with living with their parents and so build their own house by hand and from scratch in the middle of the woods. They then run away and live there, swearing to keep it a secret and learn to live off the land. Now, I love a good coming of age movie, and this is the best premise for one I’ve come across in years.

And for the most part it works. The film starts strong, and the events that set the plot in motion are believable. This is aided by the aforementioned strong supporting cast. Offerman plays Joe’s single father, who is recklessly disciplinarian (though loving all the same), and Mullally plays Patrick’s chipper and overbearing mother. Brie is underused (which really goes for her whole film career at this point) as Joe’s sympathetic older sister. The real show-stealer here, though, is Moises Arias as Biaggio, a weird kid who inadvertently gives the boys the idea to build a house in the woods, and then becomes a hanger-on once they actually do. Arias looks like a young version of Robert Blake in Lost Highway, and I think he winds up being slightly more unnerving than he was originally intended to be.

As the movie progresses, though, you come across many chinks in the armor of your suspension of disbelief—not least of them are the fact that the house seems to have been built in maybe two or three days, and no one is able to find the kids, despite their proximity to their family homes and the highway. In the end, it’s a fun movie that just doesn’t quite live up to its potential. In that way, if you’re looking for a nice distraction this summer, The Kings of Summer isn’t a bad bet. If you already know the premise and are really expecting a lot out of the movie, or if you’re looking for a flawless, best-of-the-year type film, maybe you should look elsewhere. This is actually shaping up to be a strong summer on that front—might I suggest Frances Ha, Before Midnight, or Stories We Tell?—so you really needn’t look around too long to find a movie that’s better than this one. | Pete Timmermann

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