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The Kings of Summer

tn_kingsofsummerTHE KINGS OF SUMMER is a real good indie movie about teenagers, around 15 years old I believe, an emotional age. Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso from SUPER 8) don’t seem to be the popular kids, but they’re not “geeks” either. Their parents aren’t bad people, but they can’t get along with them. They’re old enough to sneak out and go to keggers, to get embarrassed talking to girls, but also they can’t drive, they gotta ride bikes. They’ve got a little bit of kid still in them, enough that it seems like a good idea when Joe convinces Patrick (and Biaggio [Moises Arias], a weird kid that just starts following them around) that they should ditch their parents and build themselves a house out in the woods.

The way they talk about it you figure they must have some building skills. Actually, they do better than alot of people would. But the opening scene already showed us the crooked-ass birdhouse Joe built. What they build does not necessarily count as a house, but it’s a hell of a fort, constructed from stolen lumber, port-a-potty doors, etc. (There’s no bathroom, and the issue of shitting is never addressed.)

mp_kingsofsummerAlthough it’s not nearly as stylized, it’s a little reminiscent of Bruce Willis’s MOONLIGHT KINGDOM or whatever because the parents are trying to find these fugitive kids who have done this silly thing that is treated as a huge deal in their small community. The young love (a girl Joe likes named Kelly [Erin Moriarty] is involved) is not as central to this one, it’s more about the friendship of the boys and Joe’s relationship with his dad, played by Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation.

Offerman is a unique phenomenon, and his Parks character Ron Swanson is beloved not just for how funny he is but for an anachronistic but appealing ideal of machismo that he represents. He’s kind of like a manlier Hank Hill, a guy who’s crippled by his closed off emotions but empowered by his know-how. He’s a proud woodworker (as is Offerman) and berates other men for not knowing how to build things, how to survive in nature, how to skin and cook an animal, how to not hug. It’s a joke but there’s a certain amount of truth to it. Many modern men feel soft compared to their fathers’ generations, spoiled by technology and a childhood spent in front of a TV and on the computer instead of in nature or at war.

THE KINGS OF SUMMER expresses similar themes, so it makes sense that Offerman is producer of the movie. He gets alot of laughs with his too-mean berating of his son, his son-in-law, police officers and others, and it works because he has a sense of awareness that he’s gone too far and needs to change. I like that the father, son and older sister (Alison Brie from Community) all have similarly cutting wit. They really seem like they’re related.

Offerman’s real-life-wife Megan Mullally has a smaller part as Patrick’s mom, and is really funny in her portrayal of a harmless mother who drives her son crazy with her inane comments. Mom, you don’t have to fucking comment on that I decided to wear a blue shirt. Just stop talking.

This has themes in common with two good movies I saw this year and didn’t review, David Gordon Green’s PRINCE AVALANCHE and Dmitry Vasyukov and Werner Herzog’s HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA. All three of these deal with men who feel the need to ditch their families and be out in the woods. They want to leave the complexity of family relationships for the simplicity and solitude of nature. In the case of the two non-documentaries they’re also dealing with loss, building relationships with other males and trying to prove to themselves that they are men because they can figure out how to survive in nature and how to build shit.

Like PRINCE AVALANCHE, which is about Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch mostly alone painting the yellow lines on forest roads, this one is very funny but has occasional seemingly Malick-inspired nature montages. KINGS is broader, spends a little less time on the quiet and more on the bonding and laughs. The pace is faster, with a few show offy camera moves that say “first time director,” but in a good way. Like he’s excited to get going. (It’s the first feature for director Jordan-Vogt Roberts and writer Chris Galletta. Vogt-Roberts did alot of shorts for Funny or Die and stuff.)

It’s a funny movie and there are also some real nice moments that aren’t just about laughs, or even plot. For example it opens with the three boys doing a weird percussion and dance routine on some kind of drain pipe or pipeline out in the woods. I mean, Biaggio’s bizarre dancing made me laugh, but to me this scene isn’t about that, it’s mostly about some dudes out in the woods doing something weird and awesome that they would probly be too self conscious to do in civilization, or at any other age, or with anybody else. And you gotta respect that.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013 at 10:40 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

23 Responses to “The Kings of Summer”

  1. Heard good things about this, will keep an eye out for it.

  2. Yeah, 15 was fun. Don’t recall being “emotional,” but I definitely went to some keggers, talked to some girls, failed to talk to some girls, and found novel ways to travel pre-driver’s license. These indie-movie bicyclist dweebs should only be allowed the title of Prince or Duke, because I was King of Summer back in the day, rolling spliffs for my 16-17 year old chauffeurs, shoplifting liquor, cruising Myrtle Beach for crazy slores, partying every night, renting Jet Li VHSes to fill my odd afternoons, dominating sports leagues by day, and practicing with the girls’ varsity short-shortsed soccer/tennis/basketball teams as an extracurricular just for fun.

    I’ve always hated camping & outdoor living, though, ever since I camped that one time at age 13, (Turns out I’m a big fan of soap & running water and not being eaten by insects.), but the idea of a bigass forest house seems cool. Wait… actually, not really.

    But obviously Ron Swanson approves of it, and no one should devalue that opinion, considering that he was among the most sensible citizens who reacted properly when he realized very early on that the government/corporations was/is/are tracking all of us via our computers.

    http://gifrific.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/ron-swanson-computer-throw-out-parks-and-rec.gif

  3. I spent my 15th year drinking purloined liquor in my sweet basement bedroom with my newly extended group of friends (who had recently discovered that I had a sweet basement bedroom where it was safe to drink purloined liquor) and shoplifting. Lots and lots of shoplifting. I was too young to get a job, and lord knows my mom had no money to give me, so I survived by stealing expensive computer games and selling them to rich kids at the private school my best friend went to. Back when a taco was 69 cents and movie tickets cost $6 ($4.50 if you could convince the cashier that you were 12) that kind of scratch went a long way.

    I need to stop being so racist against these indie feel-good sleeper hits of the summer. Some of them might actually be kind of not automatically twee and terrible. I mean, forts are pretty cool. I think we can all agree on that. And Nick Fucking Offerman. And Alison Brie could friendzone me until I died from it and I wouldn’t really mind. There’s potential for actual watchability here.

    If there’s shoplifting involved, I’m in. I’d like to keep up on how the kids are practicing the craft these days.

  4. I can’t remember anything from my teenage years before the big 18. I’m sure that I listened to lots of Eurodance, watched even more TV and tried to avoid everyone but three or four guys in school, which is pretty difficult, when you are locked up in the same building with them five days a week, for 1/3 of each day.

    Yeah, I think I hate the days of my youth and I hate that nobody ever gave me credit for not ending up as alcoholic, junkie or suicide victim. (Don’t get me wrong, my youth wasn’t THAT bad, compared to what happens to others. I was never molested or bullied beyond the occasional name calling, but it’s not exactly the fun part of my life either.) I think the time between my 17th (I guess?) and 19th year were pretty good by my standards.

  5. Used to be, before the totalitarian tentacles of Mayor Bloomberg & concerned librul moms got in the way of American free enterprise, most gas stations had a display or 2 of cigarettes right there at the cashier station, where the customer’s elbow could touch a pack of Marlboros while scooping a penny from the penny tray. I preferred the move where I’m at the counter buying an Airhead and 5 gallons of gas (total cost $5 — We all miss the Clinton years.),
    take off my Yankees cap, pretend to fix the hair by my ear, and, in the movement to reach for my wallet with the same hand that was holding my hat, or the movement to point for the cashier at the filling pod where my gas money was intended, knock over 1 or 2 packs of cigarettes into the head cavity of my hat (geographically impossible for the cashier to see if I’m subtle, and hopefully I’d already scouted that there weren’t witnesses behind or beside me), then fold & tuck the hat and my new cigarettes into a pocket at the same time I’m producing the cash at the counter.

    I didn’t even smoke tobacco, but it was like prison rules — they were good currency, an impressive trophy of one’s badassery, a handy thing for a minor to have to lure a chick outside with you for a private convo at a party.

    Stealing liquor & beer was a 2-man or 3-man operation. Basic distraction/diversion technique at one corner of the store (“Ma’am, is there a bathroom back here?” as you “accidentally” walk into an off-limits hallway, forcing the employee to look at you or walk toward you) while the heistman at the opposite corner of the store with the biggest pocket or baggiest jacket grabs the loot and walks out.

    CDs from the big box electronics stores were also easy & exhilarating to steal, before the advanced magnetic bar coding security measures killed my buzz (and maybe kept me out of juvey).

    In conclusion, crime is bad?

  6. To get around the magnetic strips, what you had to do was find a spot on the outside of the sensors by the door and stash a small cache of CDs or tapes (dating myself here). Then you walk away but stay close. Then your buddy makes a distraction, you walk through the sensors, pick up the loot on the other side, and walk away. This scheme was so successful that even though the employees knew I was stealing from them, they couldn’t figure out how. I basically stole the entire rap section of my local franchise record store between the years of 1993 and 1995. No wonder nobody else in my school listened to hip-hop.

    Then after my sophomore year in college, after leaving the poor bastards alone for a few years, I got a job there. I soon learned that it’s a lot easier to steal when you’re working from inside the system.

    One time I also shoplifted a girl a Bible without her noticing until we were in the parking lot. Guess who got to second base that night!

    In conclusion, crime doesn’t pay. Unless we’re talking about money or worldly goods or awesome experiences.

  7. Hahaha first time in history the bible got someone some ass? (Excepting priests and their altar boys, of course).

  8. Ah, outlawvern.com… come for the reviews, but stay for the comments section. I love this fucking site.

  9. Another good strategy for getting around magnetic strips was to peel one off something in a different store, and then take it in with you. You set the alarm off on the way in, make a big show of being confused about it to the cashier so they remember you on the way out, &c.

  10. That’s a good one, but it’ll only work once or twice. In the burbs, where there are limited retail options, you gotta find ways to rip off the same store on a regular basis.

  11. I must be getting old, because I have to say I completely empathized with Offerman’s father character here. Yeah, he’s got his own problems, but his son is definitely a selfish little shithead (even if he does build a damn fine almost-house). I appreciate Vogt-Roberts’s honest depiction of the self-centered world of young adulthood, but I still think I was supposed to identify with Joe a little more than I did in the end. Good thing they had Biaggio in there or I might have gotten too annoyed with all the whining in the latter half of the film. Still, you gotta like a film which can be very upfront about all the character’s flaws and still like them.

  12. yeah, 15/16/17 is a fun age, old enough to know what the fuck’s going on but also young enough to still have a childlike sense of wonder at times, then you hit 18 and feel like you’ve seen it all and gradually spiral into an existential crisis that lasts well into your 20’s and counting (it’s not just me, right?)

    anyway, I can’t say I did any shoplifting or underage drinking and to be honest I don’t really approve of that behavior, where the fuck was you guys’ fathers?

  13. My fazzha was catching my nascent curveball in our backyard, picking me up after hours from tennis practice & matches when I was a Varsity Champion, taking me to Yankees World Series games (13 hours drive northward, but worth it to see Andy Pettitte shut down the Mets or Padres or Braves), cooking couscous for my sisters & me, driving & paying for me to see arthouse films at The Manor (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, wut) & to rent arthouse movies from VisArt Video (HORSE THIEF, wut), and teaching me to change oil in automobiles (Nick Offerman approves in my opinion, wut).

    But we didn’t have enough money to afford all the new music releases for my tunes library (new CDs cost like $12-18 at the time), so I jacked some discs.

    ‘the fuck’s your point?

  14. well, I have been known to download some stuff off the internet

    I’m more worried about the drinking to be honest, I don’t think 15 year olds should be boozing it up

  15. Eh, you get just enough in you to get sick. You actually kind of hate it but you can’t admit it to your bros. Better to learn early to fear liquor than to drink responsibly and never experience its dark side until its too late and your locked in the clutches of an epic shit-hammering in an unfriendly location. Binge drinking is the one test of manhood that hasn’t been civilized out of our culture, so it’s important to know how to handle yourself.

  16. Speaking of which, I am just a little tipsy, which might explain my sudden hostility toward contractions. YOU THINK YOUR BETTER THAN ME, APOSTROPHE?!

  17. I can probably count on my fingers & toes (20ish, at last count) the number of total days between age 13.5 and 21 that I wasn’t either blunted or drunk, and most of those sober days occurred because I was visiting country-bound grandparents for a long weekend.

    Blame my stud anatomy, my freakishly lucky metabolism, &/or my fitness regimen — I don’t get hangovers. Ever.
    There’s been zero negative effects from my many 15-year-old-esque decisions, either drug/alcohol related or crime-related.

    Batty from BLADE RUNNER says he’s “seen things you people wouldn’t believe.” That’s where I’m coming from.
    I’ve hooked up with gals way the fuck out of my league, faced down & defeated varsity sports opponents that should have crushed me like a sub-footnote in their full-athletic-scholarship-bound careers, starred at college parties by dint of the middies half-ounce & Strawberry Phillies in my high school pocket, and rolled through neighborhoods bumping deep hip hop tracks that FM top-40 slaves never would have known existed if not for my boy’s absurd topless Jeep Wrangler sound system & my willingness to swipe shit from Best Buy.

    I’ve lived the fucking dream and then some. I pity you, Griff.

  18. Y’know, thanks to your talk about underage drinking, I just remembered my best friend’s 16th birthday, which was pretty much the only occasion on which I drank heavily. Just to find out that I hate the taste of alcohol and it doesn’t matter what I drink, may it beer, Whisky or something inbetween like “Chocolate Dream” (which was some kind of liquid chocolate pudding with alcohol), the alcohol taste is everywhere and it’s what still keeps me from drinking. (And I don’t get the appeal of being drunk or stoned.)

    Aynway, my buddy drank so much that night, he first started to hold an imaginary bunny in his arms, then tried to hit on his sister (I guess he didn’t recognize her.) and finally passed out on the lawn. When his parents (who were okay with us drinking, btw) carried him upstairs, he kept spitting in his bed and the next morning he just walked out of his room without remembering anything and just watched the episode of DS9, that he had recorded last night.

  19. Watched it a couple of days ago and loved how it mixed the more serious dramatic moments with some of the more lighter comedy, and the “weird” kid, the one with the big ears and the look, he was hilarious, a highlight of the film for sure.

  20. Well as I said in the “riddick” thread, I just saw this one when it came over to the UK (half a year late, as usual) and absolutely loved it. Definitely up there with the best films of 2013 so far. I absolutely agree with Vern and Film Conoisseur about the mixture of serious and lightness. When a film can pull off this kind of tonal shift, and do it successfully, it’s an absolute joy to behold.

    Side-comment: what is it this year about films that have giant angry rows start because of disputes over board games? I’ve seen two movies in the last two weeks and BOTH of them managed to shove a board-game fight in there.

  21. Side-comment #2: did anybody else think that Badaggio’s father might be God? Or at least Badaggio’s hallucination of him?

  22. Paul — the one scene with Biaggio’s dad is kind of interesting in how unexpectedly ambiguous it is. If I remember correctly, you never see the father’s face, and I think he and his son speak to each other in different languages? And then the father never shows up again, even when his kid is later in the hospital, seemingly all alone. It’s been a while since I saw the film, but I think that’s right. I still don’t know what to make of this, but I definitely didn’t jump to the conclusion that God might be involved. What makes you think so?

  23. Mr S – just a weird thing about how they talked exclusively about whether Biaggio (that’s how it’s spelt, eh?) is going to heaven or hell. And yes, when one speaks in Spanish, the other speaks English, and they actually alternate (as far as I can remember) twice. Just a very weird, ambiguous little scene. Touching in a way, if you assume that it was his real father, but also capable of… other interpritations.

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