The Kings of Summer (2013) a (mildly) belated review

Found the trailer for The Kings of Summer attached to another movie and found it quite humorous:

So I put the film on my Netflix que and soon enough it arrived.  Yesterday I finally had a chance to see the film.  Did it live up to this delightful trailer?



The first half of the film, which is most in evidence in the trailer, is damn good as we meet the three leads, a trio of high school friends who decide to make a home in the woods so they can live as “men”.  First up is Joe (Nick Robinson), the instigator, who finds it increasingly difficult to live with his moody widowed father (Nick Offerman in a role that while still using what are his standard -and very humorous- comedic tropes, nonetheless gives him a chance to present a character who is genuinely hurting inside).  Next up is Joe’s friend Patrick (Gabriel Brasso) who also has considerable trouble with his parents, to the point where he has developed hives.  Rounding out the group is the genuinely bizarre Biaggio (Moises Arias), who is given the lion’s share of funny lines and reactions.

Along with a need to get out of his house, Joe also pines for Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a High School crush who likes him as a friend, though it is his sincere hope that one day they might become more.

In that first half of the film the boys run away from their homes and build their “new” house in the woods while their worried parents engage the police (a bungling -and also quite hilarious- duo played by Mary Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch) to help find them.

With me so far?

As I was saying, I loved the first half of the film but, unfortunately, the second half was nearly as good.  The second half of the film tries to tone down the humor and bring in more drama.  I didn’t really mind the shift that much but was bothered by a feeling that Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the director, was drawing things out and, to be blunt, becoming too “artsy” in his presentation.

What was until that point a delightful rush became a slog.  There were several sequences that didn’t feel like they needed to be in the film and should have either been cut down significantly or removed entirely (why did we need to see the extended preparation of the rabbit?  Why did we need to see those two young impulsive lovers who bump into Joe in the river?).  The “artsy” bits and pieces presented here and there, of nature and flowers and animals and water, after a while also felt like overkill.

By the time the film ended, I was truly torn.  On the one hand, the first half plus of the film was delightful and achieved a beautiful balance between being laugh out loud funny while still presenting a realistic/serious picture of what it is like to be a young teen with “difficult” parents.  The adults, who could have been treated as cardboard “jokes” were given more depth than initially met the eye, in particular in the portrayal of Joe’s father.

But that second half of the film ruined most, if not all, that goodwill.

In the end, I find it difficult to recommend this film in spite of the many, many good things to be found within it.  Truly, that is a shame.  However, even if the movie didn’t ultimately work for me in its entirely, director Vogt-Roberts created enough good stuff for me to keep him on my radar.

I’m looking forward to seeing more from him.