While neither the woods nor the people are particularly dark or deep in the coming-of-age dramedy "The Kings of Summer," the movie is a likable teen adventure with some amusing grownups. For those seeking not-too-serious fare, it's a charming, down-to-earth alternative to the summer blockbuster.
First-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, working from a screenplay by Chris Galletta, has made a conventional rite-of-passage story seasoned with the kind of quirky particulars that translate (as happened here) into Sundance-darling status.
The story suggests a mix of "Stand by Me," "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Mud." The setting is an unnamed 'burb (though it's impossible not to note that the movie was filmed in an Ohio suburb called Chagrin Falls).
Fifteen-year-old Joe (Nick Robinson), unable to connect with his negative father, Frank (Nick Offerman), decides to run away, build a house in the woods and live there.
He persuades his friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso), whose own parental aggravations include a geeky, protective mom and dad (Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson), to join him. An oddball kid, Biaggio (Moises Arias), tags along.
They build a wilderness abode and initially delight in being parent-free and living off the land — never mind that their pledge to hunt for food quickly gives way to Boston Market visits.
Tension arises when a romantic triangle develops among Joe, Patrick and Joe's visiting crush, Kelly (Erin Moriarty).
Back home, family members, getting no results from a pair of dumb and dumber police detectives (Mary Lynn Rajskub, Thomas Middleditch), worry about their missing sons. A climactic crisis leads to constructive collaboration.
Possibly due to the screenwriters' TV backgrounds, the movie sometimes suffers from sitcom-style storytelling and it lacks the intensity, depth and impact of similar films.
In Judd Apatow style, supporting characters say offbeat and inappropriate things but remain palatable, which seems a bit unnatural.
Still, the movie is a competent coming-of-age tale that doesn't lose touch with human experiences that underlie its characters' journeys: parent-child friction, first love, challenges of friendship.
Solid work from a TV-credentialed cast helps even the most familiar material seem fresh, and Offerman's Frank, distinguished by a deadpan sarcasm, stands out. A passage in which Frank channels his frustrations into his Monopoly maneuvers on board-game night is stellar.
REVIEWThe Kings of Summer
Starring Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman
Written by Chris Galletta
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes