This chripy, woodland-based American indie is hampered by its weak writing.
"I don't even know what I was running for — I guess I just felt like it."
This line from JD Salinger's 'The Catcher in the Rye' eloquently captured the restless angst and heavy sense of disaffection felt by countless young men growing up in post-war America. It's an evocative motif taken to its literal extreme in Jordan Vogt-Roberts' plucky Sundance hit The Kings of Summer.
With the knowing cocksure swagger of a Holden Caulfield-lite, Joe (Nick Robinson) is equal parts rebel yell and petulant adolescent. He's essentially your typical self-serving teenager, just with an especially smart mouth and a charismatic grin. Having never really bonded with his father (Parks and Rec's Nick Offerman, doing his whole 'Nick Offerman' thing) since the untimely death of his mother, and with big sis off to college, Joe decides to leave home with his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso), who's also looking to escape his smothering, crushingly uncool 'rents.
Having stumbled upon an idyllic clearing in the nearby woods while fleeing a raided late-night beach rager, Joe convinces Patrick to help him build a house for them to live in, away from the rules and responsibilities of urban life. Tagging along is Biaggio (Moises Arias), an acutely weird kid who happened to be with Joe when he discovered the site, and so is effectively invited to stick around by default. Adding an unnecessary dimension to this otherwise conventional buddy dynamic, Biaggio is a character whose cartoonish quirks (which could be interpreted as stemming from a serious personality disorder) majorly sour the tone. Comic relief is clearly what first-time scriptwriter Chris Galletta was aiming for, but he hits way wide of the mark.
And so the trio set about scrounging what ever bits of discarded timber and miscellaneous construction parts they can find, gradually erecting a glorified low-level treehouse they can proudly call their own. It's merry and wild and romantic while it lasts, but with only a shoebox full of grubby bills, next to zero survival skills between them and very little in the way of stimulation (there's only so long you can bang away at an exposed sewer pipe with a big stick before it stops being fun), the boys' enthusiasm for life in the wilderness gradually begins to wane. Then Joe initiates the self detonation sequence of their grand adventure by inviting his class crush to come hang (Erin Moriarty). To his horror she promptly (and predictably) hooks up with Patrick, and with their bromance on the ropes, the summer's end comes hurtling soberingly into view.
Decent performances aside, this is a film that musters up few surprises. Core themes — disillusionment, companionship, independence — are handled in an under-developed and clichéd manner, while certain key scenes feel entirely borrowed — most notably a redemptive snake bite sequence that brings to mind Jeff Nichols far superior backwoods coming-of-ager, Mud. It's stylish and sincere, but Vogt-Roberts' debut feature barely registers on the indie Americana map.
Any film labelled 'Sundance favourite' should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt.
Sunny and infectious, but not nearly as profound as it thinks it is.
Like a summer fling, forgotten as soon as you re-enter the real world.