One of the most talked about hits to come out of this year’s Sundance was The Kings Of Summer, and at points, it’s hardly a Sundance film. It’s a decidedly raunchy teen comedy, laden with curses that will probably earn it an “R” rating upon its release, but at other points, it’s very easy to see this came out of Sundance: long, ponderous close-ups of nature with voiceover laid over it strung together in dreamlike montages. To mix these things into a relatively short runtime was probably no piece of cake for first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and it actually serves as the film’s largest flaw, but these two different tones the films take on both singularly play a part in making one of the wittiest, most engrossing, enjoyable films of the year so far. The Kings Of Summer follows three small-town teens, unhappy with their home lives, who decide to run away to the woods after school ends to build a makeshift home and adapt to living in the wilderness together.
If there’s one thing unanimously brilliant from the cast of this film, it’s comedic timing. The king of that particular art form, Nick Offerman of Parks And Recreation is here with his dry humor dialed up to 11. Hilarity ensues. He walks away with the best lines and moments in the film, and it seems like writer Chris Galletta knows this: he splices Offerman into the film whenever possible. It sometimes shifts focus rather swiftly away from the kids, but it’s not to the film’s detriment. Offerman is able to build a character that is equal parts hilarious and layered, emotionally satisfying and unbelievably funny. But the rest of the cast is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the funny stuff, especially the three leading boys. Nick Robinson is a young, fresh face for Hollywood to gobble up. He has a subtle boyish charm and witty delivery that elevates Galletta’s already witty, fast-paced dialogue to new heights. The same goes for Super 8’s Gabriel Basso. Easily the funniest of the trio is a certain face from Disney Channel’s past, Moises Arias. Not much taller than he was on his run on Hannah Montana all those years back (disclaimer: I have a younger sister. Watching Hannah Montana was by no means a decision or a choice), Arias lights up the screen with his lovably bizarre, eternally creepy misfit that, like Offerman, steals the best scenes in the movie.
The Kings Of Summer doesn’t follow a complicated plot, nor is it a particularly revolutionary one. But like the small town that the film takes place in, there’s something refreshingly wholesome and loving about it. It’s a nice film to watch, from beginning to end. Vogt-Roberts makes it even more nice to watch as he provides a stunning visual aesthetic to the film, often employing nature documentary-esque shots to set up the surroundings that are as beautiful as they are stunning in their high-definition. But a major problem with this is that Vogt-Roberts seems to love these shots so much, that he uses them whenever possible. Scenes of dialogue will be layered over a montage of these shots, and eventually the collection of montages is so ever-expanding and endless that it feels unnecessary. The film is at its witty, heartfelt best when its focusing on the characters, not the nature that surrounds them. When the director lets Galletta’s script take control of the screen, some of the funniest sequences of the year ensues, and while there’s certainly enough of this to satisfy an audience member, one will walk out hoping for a bit less of the nature montages and a bit more of the actual scenes.
Despite my problems with the overuse of nature shots, I must say the production design and cinematography are beautiful. There are some shots in the film of mountains, trees, rock formations by a flowing stream, and more that might make you a convert to the life-in-the-woods lifestyle, but if not, it’ll certainly be a blast to watch three likable, engaging teens embrace it as their life for a summer. The film is a surprisingly engrossing one, an attribute gained by its brisk but effective runtime and wonderfully crafted soundtrack.
In all, The Kings Of Summer will please anyone who wants a break after Iron Man 3 and Fast And Furious 6 (I’ve seen it, review will come up ASAP) when it comes out late this May. Its artsiness might overshadow its wittiness at times, but it’s not nearly enough to make this not worth the trip. There’s something refreshing about a film like this: kind, harmless fun. I love all the action and bombastic explosions, but it’d be nice to see some films like this be the kings of this summer.
FINAL GRADE: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)
FINAL SAY: Well-acted, frequently hilarious, and well-written, The Kings Of Summer may sometimes dip into “over-artsiness”, but overall, it’s a fun, heartfelt, small film with great characters and energy.
“The Kings Of Summer” will be released in theaters on May 31.