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The Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer

What She said:


I would just like to start this review by noting that there are a striking number of coming-of-age dramas about boys, but not so many about girls.  Not that I cannot relate to the boy flicks—I’ve always been a Tom-boy and who doesn’t love Stand By Me—but it’s just worth pointing out.  Anyway, The Kings of Summer is another entry into this genre.  A few months ago, The He and I had the privilege of viewing another movie of this classification, The Way, Way Back.  Naturally, therefore, I’ll want to try to compare the two.  Well, you cannot.  They aren’t even in the same league as each other.  And that’s because, while it endeavors to achieve a lot cinematically, The Kings of Summer doesn’t cut it as a coming-of-age film.  Quite simply, not enough happens in this movie to make it worthwhile or memorable.

The Kings of Summer follows three teenage boys who are fed up with their lives.  Joe lives with his moody and critical father, his mother having died some years prior.  He’s tired of his father’s maliciousness and wishes he could finally live apart on his own.  Joe’s best friend, Patrick, also is tired of his living situation.  He has loving, albeit delusional and somewhat overbearing parents.   And then there’s Biaggio, who I like to incorrectly call Bellagio.  We never really come to fully know his living situation; however, we do know that the kid is a total weirdo.  Despite his seemingly Italian last name, the dude is shown speaking fluent Spanish at home.  That’s pretty par for the course this with this guy, though.  He’s as strange and mysterious as they come.

So, the boys don’t like their home lives, and so Joe hatches this plan to build a house in the woods, go off the grid, and live there for the summer.  Of course, they don’t tell their parents this.  Instead, they quietly build this pretty decent house in their spare time, and then one day disappear to not be seen or heard from again.  The police quickly determine that they’ve left under their own free will, and apparently are not very good at finding missing people.  And so, for several weeks, the boys get away with living on their own.  Of course, they’re able to escape their surroundings, but they aren’t able to fully escape their problems, and I guess that’s the moral of the story here.

The Kings of Summer

Have you ever wanted to watch teenage boys goof off for an hour and a half?  Yeah, me neither.  But that’s basically what you get with The Kings of Summer.  This film is super stylized—basically just a collection of video sequences set to music.  These all tie together in an overarching narrative, but there really isn’t that much of one, and so it becomes dull and difficult to sit through.  This movie felt like a long music video to me.  So much effort is put into making things visually appealing, with various cuts to nature elements, and there’s thumping music that attempts to capture the essence of each section.  Quite simply, the film did not feel that it was plot driven or character driven, and to have a decent movie you need one or the other.  With the absence of such, there was nothing to push this along. 

Both Joe and Patrick seem like a couple of whiners.  Yeah, they don’t have the ideal situation at home, but part of the problem is that they cannot seem to appreciate what they do have.  If you’re going to be a miserable teenager, go shut yourself up in your room and spend hours playing video games, listening to music, and trolling online; you know, like a normal teenage boy.  Because these kids were just miserable from the outset, being in the woods makes little difference.  And, I flat out did not like any of them. 

The film does offer some ok comedic jabs.  But what little comedy we do get is pretty dark.  It’s just enough to make you crack a smile.  One thing I did find hilarious about this film was how outright implausible the entire thing was.  Take it from me—I once tried to build my own house in the woods with friends (I’m not even kidding)—and we got no further than collecting some materials and creating a wooden foundation.  These kids, in what appears to be days, put together a two story split-level that is at least somewhat furnished.  Not…even…close.  And this is the core of the film.  If I cannot believe that, then how am I supposed to get on board for the rest of the movie?  That particular detail really was the tip of the iceberg.  There are other implausibles that are both laughable and perplexing. 

I’m amazed that this film garnered praise from some.  I saw little growth in our characters and found the movie completely forgettable.  The only pluses were that the acting wasn’t too bad and the movie was “stylish.”  But no amount of visual style can save something that does not have any real payoff.

Thumbs down.

What He said:


A couple of the movie and entertainment websites I frequent were talking about this one for months. It wasn’t anything over-the-top, but every once and a story about it would pop up. The movie premiered at Sundance and in selected theaters in May, so I think I remember hearing about it as far back as last year. When I saw it was available for rental, I was looking forward to checking it out.

Joe (Nick Robinson) is a teenager who lives with his father Frank (Nick Offerman). He has an older sister, but she doesn’t live with them anymore, and his mother has passed away. Frank has tried to move on, but Joe is having trouble moving on, and isn’t shy about letting his father know he doesn’t like the fact that he moved on either. His dad does his best to try and include his new girlfriend in family time, but Joe isn’t very accommodating. Truthfully, the kid is kind of an asshole. He goes out of his way to make things difficult for his father.

Regardless, he is frustrated by his life, which he feels he has no control over. It’s a pretty common things in teens, but to be completely honest, Joe is the cause of most of it. Him and his father have a poor relationship because he tries so hard not to try and make it work. He’s not apathetic or passive aggressive, but openly rude to his father and his girlfriend.

Joe’s best friend is a kid named Patrick (Gabriel Brasso). Patrick has some of the same feelings about his parents as Joe does his dad. They are a little overbearing and act like something out of a Twilight Zone episode at times, but they’re harmless and mean well. If my parents were anything like these two, I think I’d have been more prone to laugh at them rather than get annoyed by them like Patrick does.

The Kings of Summer

The two of them decide to run away, but do so in fashion. Joe comes up with the idea to build a house in the woods and live off the land. They also connect with some kid named Biaggio along the way, who ends up joining them on their little adventure.

There’s also a girl involved too. Joe is friends with Kelly, but has a crush on her. They appear to have been friends for a while and she’s completely unaware of his feelings. She dates some jackass, but is always inviting Joe along. The two are legitimately friends. She confides in him and does all the things with him friends do, but she does not know he has deeper feelings for her.

I mentioned earlier that Joe isn’t a very likeable kid and that’s a problem. Coming of age stories are supposed to be about relatable characters. Even if you don’t have a lot in common with the character, you’re supposed to identify with their situation. Everyone knows what it feels like to a teenager who feels like the world is coming down around you. The problem is, Joe brings his problems on himself. No, he didn’t cause his mother to die, but he is very immature whenever he interacts with his father. It doesn’t even appear as if his mother being gone is the cause of his attitude – the kid is just kind of a jerk.

Patrick isn’t much better. His parents are goofy, but by no means controlling, cruel, or abusive. But this kid also feels trapped in his “horrible” life.

The movie also had no credibility. Its storyline was so absurd that it wasn’t even remotely believable. On so many different levels, it was simply unbelievable that events unfolded the way they did.

I can’t believe this movie was an “indie darling”, because I thought it was horrible. Aside from a few – and I do mean few – laughs, this movie fell flat on its face. The funny parts weren’t funny, the main characters were completely unlikeable, and it was a very strange movie too. It went out of its way to try and add a unique style, but it simply came off as trying too hard. If you want to see a good coming of age story, go see Stand by Me, The Way Way Back (review here), or Mud (review here) instead. This movie stinks.

Rating: Thumbs down.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on December 26, 2013.

The Kings of Summer