Each summer is filled with coming of age movies and this one tries to to take things a little less seriously
The movie stars Allison Brie, who we know from Mad Men as well as Community; Gabriel Basso, who you may know from The Big C; and Ron Swanson, whose real name is Nick Offerman. Also, Offerman’s wife Megan Mullally, from Will and Grace, is in the film.
Now, being that this is a coming-of-age film, the characters are mostly teens with the usual screwed up parents. To start off, we have Joe (played by Nick Robinson) who is our lead and, like all leads in coming- of-age tales, he has some issues. Starting off, his mom is dead and the man/dad he lives with, played by Nick Offerman, pretty much is a butt hole. He also has a sister, Heather, played by Allison Brie who does feel for him a bit, but isn’t in a position to help him relocate. So, in order to cope, outside of randomly calling the cops sometimes on his dad, Joe hangs out with Patrick (played by Gabriel Basso) who seems like a nice everyday kid, with a never fully explained foot injury. Patrick’s parents, played by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Johnson, are of the overbearing sort. However, they are so corny that they seem like cut characters from Suburgatory. The last main character to mention is Moises Arias’ character, who plays a typical weird foreign kid. It feels like a slightly different character from the one you may know him from on Hannah Montana, but at the same time he still plays a weird kid who seems to be playing up a stereotype for laughs. So, needless to say, this shouldn’t be considered a breakout role.
Focusing on the story, The Kings of Summer starts off like a run of the mill coming-of-age story. However, as the story goes on you get a sense that the movie isn’t really trying to take itself too seriously. The reason I say that is because it relies on characters which don’t try to beg for sympathy, like most coming of age films, and take the roles Offerman, Mullaly and Johnson play. Each of them play the parents and at times you are lead to believe they are more spoofing, or mocking, coming-of-age parents than trying to give a realistic performance. And this isn’t to say the movie doesn’t try to take on a serious tone, but even when it tries to make things a bit more serious by having Joe, Patrick and Arias’ Biaggio leaving home and live in the woods, it never really leaves the silliness behind. For one, the parents don’t really take the situation seriously since Offerman’s character remains a bit of a douche, and Joe’s parents pretty much act like “gee wilikers are kid is gone.” Secondly, outside some teen drama dealing with a girl, there aren’t many issues for the boys. Altogether, while the film avoids becoming pretensions or mimicking what we saw in The Way, Way Back or The Spectacular Now, it also avoids moving you or making you feel interested in the characters.
But, in a way, the appeal of this movie is at least it tries to break the cycle. Most coming-of-age films try to be deep, dramatic and only tap on realistic comedic moments, which usually deal with being awkward, to lighten things up. For The Kings of Summer however, just take all the issues which seem to give weight to most films of this genre, and let that be handled by other films. Now, this isn’t to say the characters don’t have issues, but the film more so is about the act of rebelling than growing up and having a drastic life change be shown in an hour and a half.
However, while you have to praise it for trying to be different, it at the same times sort of fails at it. While watching, you can see it tries to be a dramedy, but the jokes are more miss than hit and while characters are defined, you don’t really get a sense that they develop. The Joe you meet in the beginning, after approximately 4 weeks, doesn’t seem much different from the Joe we see at the end. Yeah, he has learned the value of friendship, both with best friend Patrick, Biaggio, and love interest Kelly (played by Erin Moriarty), but you don’t really see him as evolving that much. At best, perhaps him and his father learn to deal with, and joke about, what aggravating qualities the other one has, but it doesn’t feel like there is any real payoff. And it doesn’t just go for Joe, but Patrick as well, if not more so. You don’t see Patrick understand or appreciating his overbearing parents, he just basically gets tired of Joe’s BS and then goes back to his parents like nothing happened. In many ways, as entertaining as the film is in some scenes, it is hurt due to it not being serious enough to be considered a drama, not being funny enough to be a comedy, and the film’s attempt to balance both makes it look like an amateur on a tightrope swaying wildly.
Overall: TV Movie
Unfortunately, The Kings of Summer suffers from lack of character development and weakly trying to mix fantasy elements, like building a decent shanty house in a few days, with the usual coming of age drama in such a way which doesn’t mesh well. Still, it has its moments where it is funny and when the characters are interesting, but as it tries to stand out in the coming of age drama genre, it doesn’t set a positive precedent for other films which may try a lighter approach. So, overall, I can only recommend this as a movie you watch whenever it comes on TV.