The Kings of Summer
Metadata: 2013 | R | 93m
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Summer Dramedy
Why I watched: I first saw The Kings of Summer five years ago, when it came to my neighborhood's indie cinema. My then boyfriend-now-husband Michael and I did date nights there often, but usually I picked what we were watching. This one was his choice, and it was a clear winner! When it came to Prime recently, I wondered if it would hold up—and it definitely did. (May I also say that the casting has proven prescient, with lead rolls for Nick Robinson, Nick Offerman, and Alison Brie.)
You might also like: Two things come to mind, the first of which is Love, Simon, currently available on iTunes and Prime. Another coming-of-age story, Love, Simon also stars Robinson. The second is Boyhood (on Netflix) a movie about which I feel conflicted—it's so good, but soooo long. Filmed over the course of actor Ellar Coltrane's lifetime, Boyhood captures something viscerally real and magical that's worth the three hour screen time.
Best friends Joe (Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) both find themselves unable to live for one second longer under the roofs of their parents. Joe's dad Frank (Nick Offerman) is sarcastic and stern, making up rules just for the sake of enforcing them. Patrick's parents (played hilariously by Megan Mulalley and Marc Evan Jackson) are so overbearing that it's giving him hives. So, like many a fifteen-year-olds before them, they decide to run away. Together with tag-along Biaggio (Moises Arias)—a truly bizarre character with some side-splitting one-liners—they build a house in the woods of their suburban Ohio neighborhood and try to make it on their own.
In many ways, The Kings of Summer isn't so different from any other coming-of-age story in which a group of boys take off into the woods to become men (see, for example, Stand By Me [Rob Reiner, 1986]). But this movie is freshly funny. Really, really funny. At one point, Michael literally made us skip back so that we could rewatch a scene that had him laughing so hard he couldn't breathe. Mostly the humor is thanks to a quip-filled script and the ensemble cast, in which even those actors playing bit parts contribute. (Notable appearances include Mary Lynn Rajskub and soon-to-be Silicon Valley costars Kumail Nanjiani and Thomas Middleditch). And while after it premiered at Sundance, some critics pointed to the film's silliness as detracting from the rawness of its realism, I'd instead say that The Kings of Summer healthily flirts with the line between sitcom and profundity. Which, I think, is something we can all say about our own childhoods.
The best way to enjoy this movie is to decide (1) it's self-aware of its absurdity, which it definitely is, and (2) that you are basically watching the inner workings of a teenage boy. If there's anything I struggle with, it's identifying with Joe, who is frustratingly immature at times, lacks empathy, and acts irrationally. But he's also witty, just trying his best to get along with the cards he's been dealt. And somehow, inexplicably, I find him growing on me. This isn't how the world is; it's how Joe sees the world. The beauty, terror, and freedom of adolescence intermingle in The Kings of Summer to depict boyhood as a whimsical and at times daunting (and ridiculous) adventure.
Happy summer streaming! Liz