Craig's First Take: "The Kings of Summer"
on 2013-06-20 10:27
“Kings of Summer” may look confusing to some of us from the outset. Kids…..play outside? What? No, the arrival of Superman to theaters last week has not also brought us to the bizzarro world but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who has done short comedy sketches for Comedy Central and Funny or Die, writer Chris Galleta, who has worked on the production staff at “Late Show with David Letterman”, some recognizable actors like Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”), Megan Mullaly (“Will and Grace”) and Alison Brie (“Community”), and a trio of young, mostly unknown actors attempt to bring some innocence back to the movies. Does it work? Well it got nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and also won an audience award at the Dallas International Film Festival, so there’s that.
Oh festival audience, why have you done this? “Kings of Summer” could have drifted off into obscurity where it belongs but no, you probably looked at three nice kids and then let your own memories of coming-of-age adolescence make you think that this thing actually has a point. It doesn’t, and the few minor things it tries to say, like girls are friendship kryptonite, we’ve already learned from many better movies.
The film is about Joe (Nick Robinson) and his friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso), two 17-year olds who either can’t stand all the rules set in place by a stern single father (Nick Offerman) or can’t stand the constant irritations from annoying parents (Megan Mullaly, Marc Evan Jackson) who knock on walls to check them and think Will Smith is actually named Will Prince. They decide to get away for the summer by building their own little shack in the middle of the woods, and allow some weird little tag-a-long kid named Biaggio (Moises Arias, should go down as the Jar Jar Binks of this summer) to camp out with them.
Neither writer Galleta nor director Vogt-Roberts seem particularly interested in the particulars. The shack is built in no time, the guys spend most of their time fooling around with sticks while musical montages play over them, less time is spent learning about themselves or how to live on their own (usually two stapes in movies like this), and it seems like we’re into familiar territory in no time as a woman comes between the two friends and jealousy rears its ugly head. Meanwhile, the parents learn obvious lessons about themselves. But don’t worry, because this feels like sitcom through and through and by the end there is a quick brushing under the rug of all negative feelings.
What dethrones this movie quick though is the real lack of jokes. It starts out well and continues pretty decently whenever Offerman is on screen; he brings the same unamused, matter-of-fact way to the dialogue that he usually brings to Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation”. Mullaly’s act every time out now is to annoy and it’s gotten old. Robinson and Basso seem like nice kids but wit is not their friend, which leaves us with Biaggio, a bizarrely unfunny character who for some reason confuses having cystic fibrosis with being gay and talks in a faux-dramatic way like someone who’s seen too many Wes Anderson movies.
Speaking of Wes Anderson, “Kings” may remind you a bit of “Moonrise Kingdom”, just expect oddity without context, unexpected plotting, or honest emotion.