It’s fast becoming tradition in cinema that a year isn’t really complete without a loveable and quirky indie coming-of-age comedy to hit our screens and emerge a veritable crowd-pleaser. Jonathan Vogt-Roberts’s The Kings of Summer pretends to be 2013’s answer to the coming-of-age yarns of the recent past including Moonrise Kingdom, Submarine and Son of Rambow, which all share thematic strands involving barely-there, dissatisfied adolescents with rebellious streaks, fighting to escape humdrum adult-world domesticity and leap for a last hurrah before the closure of their unadulterated independence. The Kings of Summer has everything you’ve seen before in these aforementioned movies – libertine teenagers, oddball sidekicks, dysfunctional suburban parents, raging hormones, twee romance and incandescent halcyon cinematography soundtracked to the season’s hot summer playlist. Like Moonrise Kingdom, the teenagers in Summer flee from their neighbourhood and build a makeshift house at the heart of nature’s haven, their plight ensuing a comic manhunt orchestrated by their slightly moronic parents. Like Son of Rambow, the central narrative strand focus on the friendship between two polar opposites, one a socially maladroit rebel with patriarchal issues and the other an outsider with a rash problem, both fraternising to pursue a dream project. But what it feels really relative to is Rob Reiner’s 1986 classic adolescent drama Stand By Me, palpably influencing Summer‘s freewheeling, seemingly improvised style and its heart of darkness – here casting an eye on grief and mortality, albeit briefly.
Whether the homage/influence/pastiche is intentional or not, Vogt-Roberts clearly knows he won’t win the Best Original Screenplay at any award show this year. What he understands, though, is how easily identifiable this story of teenage insubordination is to many. Whilst the protagonist Joe’s conflict is specific, his idealistic pursuit of a world where freedom and parentless self-sufficiency reigns is relatable. We’ve all gone through our teenage years having felt the same, with far too much time on our hands and far too much space for our minds to run wild. It’s the strongest element in the film, when Vogt-Roberts serves up a portrait of delinquent teens living it up in the woods, where Malickian bucolic naturalism is often interspersed with deliberately stylised editing and off-kilter humour, mostly facilitated by the screwball character Biaggio, who for some reason tagged along to form the last piece of this teen triptych. Seriously, give this guy a movie, I’d happily watch it. His non-sequitur quips and melodramatic statements comprise most of the movie’s offbeat comedy. “I consider myself as having no gender,” is one of his side-splitting one-liners, and the writer Chris Galletta is obviously sniggering behind the screenplay. Which backfires when he takes away the teens and zeroes in on the parents, where the screenplay staggers. Nick Offerman, as deliciously deadpan he is as Joe’s widowed father, often feels like performing a sketch show, and so are Patrick’s parents, two chirpy caricature types that will no doubt push any teenager to a screaming point. And there’s also the rushed denouement that wraps up all the characters’ lives neatly while compromising profundity. Not all things in life pan out the way we want them to, but that’s okay because a hundred other movies have made the same statements, too.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Jonathan Vogt-Roberts | CAST: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman | SCREENPLAY: Chris Galletta | DISTRIBUTOR: Studiocanal | RUNNING-TIME: 95 mins | GENRE: Comedy Drama | COUNTRY: United States