The Kings Of Summer sounds like the ideal Sundance film. It’s no surprise, then, that Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ feature debut made such a strong impression on critics and audiences alike where it premiered earlier this year. Loaded with humour, sincerity and a firm sense of personality, The Kings Of Summer is a small-scale triumph, bolstered tremendously by its talented cast, a spirited screenplay written by fellow newcomer Chris Galletta and a quirky, yet brutally honest tone.
Frustrated by his father’s increasing need to control his life, Joe (Nick Robinson) soon reaches breaking point and decides to take his life into his own hands once and for all. With his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and social outcast Biaggio (Moises Arias) in tow, the trio venture into the woods to embark upon a new existence, one free of rules, responsibilities and their overbearing parents. But it’s not long before tempers run high and cracks begin to show, leaving the boys desperately clinging onto their newfound sense of freedom.
In contrast to some of the recent coming-of-age dramas that have littered cinemas screens as of late, The Kings Of Summer is in a league of its own. The body of the narrative may not stray too far from the typical genre template, but that doesn’t matter too much when much of what sets the film apart is the level of warmth and heart that’s imbued through Galletta’s well layered screenplay and the time and effort he puts into establishing and evolving his characters, even auxiliary ones, particularly Joe’s imperious father Frank, played terrifically by Nick Offerman.
It’s through the relationships between Joe, Patrick and, to a lesser extent, Biaggio, and the depiction of their individual struggles that the film truly succeeds in sweeping the audience off their feet. Gellatto’s grasp of teenage angst and hormonal conflicts is superb and scintillating to observe. Their problems are as difficult and as important as the last, which perfectly resembles the troubles that many children experience during the confusing limbo period between being a child with zero responsibilities and an adult with the weight of the world on their shoulders.
For a first effort, The Kings Of Summer is quite an achievement. Vogt-Roberts’ directorial style is the absolute match for Gellatto’s screenplay, and the film is captured through sun-draped lenses that awards it a whimsical, dreamy mood, reflective of the boys’ longing for freedom and adventure. It’s never afraid to punctuate the lightness, however, and there’s some truly touching and hard-to-bear moments sprinkled throughout. It’s the performances that are key here though, and the real magic exudes from those wonderful character flourishes.