Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sundance London 2013: The Kings of Summer Review

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writer: Chris Galletta

Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Erin Moriarty, Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson

Synopsis: Fed up of their parents, Joe (Robinson) and Patrick (Basso) – with the addition of new friend Biaggio (Arias) – flee to the woods to start up a new life living off the land.

During those formative teenage years, many tired and tetchy youths have thought about hitting the road and leaving their parents behind. The notion itself is steeped in both danger and adventure, with some life-affirming stories, and others deeply melancholic. For the Funny or Die presents… director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and first-time writer Chris Galletta, the idea in their mind is that of pure delight. They show the oppressive environment of high school, and the gloom of being grounded; so when the boys take to the forest, you can sense the joy.

The Kings of Summer will continually be referenced in relation to Stand By Me and Superbad but it’s funnier than the former, and buries the latter in its wake. It sadly won’t always be viewed as an original due to the similarities in tone to past films, but it very well should be. The comedy is extremely well-balanced between the boys’ stories and the parents’, and the emotion is always touching and relatable. Written with such acerbic humour, and with a cast of characters that you wish you could watch for hours on end, this is the best teen comedy in existence.

Superbad, Role Models, American Pie et al are seen as the funniest teen comedies because they push the boundaries of decency. Laughing at what you shouldn’t is often staples of decent farce but there’s a limit to it. With the amount of raunchy comedies hitting cinemas nearly every month, it’s a pleasant surprise to see something that doesn’t require it. The jokes in The Kings of Summer are not always clean and the few low-brow ones will get the deserved laugh, but its’ the heightened wit and wordplay of the script that proves its quality. Furthermore, with people like Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally on top form, there’s laughter all round.

The parents who drive the kids to the woods are wonderfully realised – with snippets of very real characteristics such as mollycoddling and those outlandish or extreme, like consistently talking about the child’s supposed psychology every time they’re in his presence. Whenever any of the parental figures are on screen you are bound to be in fits of laughter. The same reaction often crosses over to the boys, who’s sojourn into the green land of Ohio is laced with slapstick and quips. Arias steals the show with his off-beat Biaggio character and this happens for him in all of his scenes. Robinson, on the other hand, is funniest when he’s in a battle of wits with his father. Having this one-on-one play from the beginning sets up Robinson’s charm, carrying on throughout (and expectantly will all through his career). The Joe character is then able to add heart and poignancy for the woods scenes later on the film, always with opportunity for humour whenever the film needs it.

The three lead actors may not have the capacity to steal the scenes away from learned actors such as Offerman and Mullally, but you cannot debate their comedic abilities. Arias, especially, has the makings of a true comic actor, with an appearance that makes you chuckle, and a clear sense of timing. Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso are similarly funny (though Basso largely plays the straight man) but are more on hand to give the film the emotion for its coming-of-age genus. Minor (yet greatly cast) characters such as the police officers, a delivery guy, and Eugene Cordero’s ass-kissing hopeful son-in-law, constantly inject moments of side-splitting humour never letting you forget how well the screenplay is scribed.

Some scenes do play out in a clichéd fashion and occasional set-pieces can be seen from a mile off. Still, it is boasting some wonderful cinematography to side with the narrative proceedings, and endless quotable lines. It should become the new favourite for a generation – a few decades after the 80′s had Rob Reiner’s classic – brimming as it is with hilarity and heartfelt moments.

By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on

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