I remember well when I watched the first trailer of “The Kings of Summer” early in this year. The movie got some positive responses after it was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival around that time, and, as far as I could observed from the trailer, the movie looked like a spirited coming-of-age comedy drama. It just showed its three teenager heroes having a musical fun with a big pipe line in the forest, and their sense of fun and enthusiasm made that moment charming and exciting.
However, when I saw the movie at last night, it turned to be not as exciting or funny or touching as I expected after watching the trailer. Although it is not entirely devoid of charm and energy, the movie frequently feels like a one-joke comedy stretched too long, and its weak story and characterization does not help much the good-spirited performances from its main cast which certainly deserves better than this. I was amused occasionally by their performances, and I enjoyed its vivid summer atmosphere, but, to be frank with you, I felt like a bored summer vacationer as the story dragged after its first 30 minutes.
The movie is about a short summer deviation of three boys who merely happen to get together and then go along with their impulsive plan. Joe(Nick Robinson) is a high schooler living with his widower father Frank(Nick Offerman), and his life with dad at home is suffocating to say the least. Frank is not exactly a loveless father, but his strict rules and constant sarcasm on his son always annoys Joe, and that attitude is not changed much even when they are with others. Offerman maintains his absolute deadpan performance while his character keeps finding from his son anything to be sarcastic about, and he is one of few things really funny in the movie.
In case of Joe’s friend Patrick(Gabriel Basso), he has an opposite problem with his equally suffocating parents, who care about their son too much. Mr. and Mrs. Keenan(Marc Evan Jackson and Megan Mullally) never lets their son go away from their sight, and their overbearing attitude recently becomes more insufferable after Patrick got a minor injury in his left foot. Like Joe, Patrick wants to get away from this suffocating environment if he can.
Now the summer vacation begins, so they are bound to be stuck in their respective homes, but Joe comes upon a good idea after one night party near the forest. While wandering in the forest, he comes across a vacant lot in the middle of the forest, and then a small plan comes to his mind; he and Patrick can build a house at this spot, and they can live in the house while being free from their parents at least during the summer vacation.
Patrick is reluctant at first, but he eventually decides to join his friend and Biaggio(Moises Arias), a bizarre boy who somehow comes to participate in this plan from the beginning. Although Arias is a scene-stealer who will probably lead a good acting career in the future, one of the main problems in the movie is that it does not know what to do with this offbeat character except making him doing the series of weird things including his silly camouflage for hiding in the forest. He may be funny to watch at first, but the movie does not provide any substantial characterization to make him into a really funny character, and Arias’ performance becomes rather flat even though the movie keeps finding another weird behavior to play for him.
Once they finish building their house and then move into the house, the movie treads a predictable path. The sky is bright and clear, and the forest is cool and green, and the boys are excited and happy to be free in their own world, and, of course, their parents are worried after their boys’ elopement(Biaggio’s parents inexplicably never appear in the movie except one brief scene which merely shows his father’s neck being shaved). While the boys explore the environment around their house, the parents and police keep looking for them, and, not so surprisingly, the parents begin to think seriously about why the boys run away from them.
Although the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts(this is his first feature film) did a good job of setting the nice, crisp atmosphere of summer days in his movie, I began to lose interest in the story mainly because Chris Galletta’s screenplay fails in developing its comic characters into something more than caricatures. There are several good individual moments, and that pipe line scene does not disappoint me at all, but they do not mesh well together to make a story which can hold our interest.
The story subsequently loses its breezy energy glimpsed during its first act as it loses its way amid slow motion shots and song-filled montages during its second act, and the conflict brought onto the third act through Kelly(Erin Moriarty), a nice girl Joe has had a crush on, is contrived and unconvincing. It is supposed to be a coming-of-drama about rebellious boys, but only growth I observed around the ending was the stubbles on their faces.
Anyway, “The Kings of Summer” is a flawed but likable film with nice things to be savored in its lightweight environment. Three young lead actors get along well with each other on the screen, and I felt a bit relaxed as appreciating those lovely summer scenes in the film. This is a little fun for a while, but, unfortunately, it just passes by like my recent summer days.