We resign ourselves to the truism that the “summer film” label is generally a pejorative one, a sign of the vacation-brained season on the cinematic calendar. We lumber our way through half-baked items, blockbustered overstatements, and cheese-ball comedies, drawn into theaters by the need for big-screen entertainment — even if it’s compromised by “summer film” syndrome.
There are pleasant exceptions, of course, including this mostly satisfying, fairly unique, and left-of-center “boys of summer” indie film, which won kudos at Sundance earlier this year. This is not just another teen movie, and it focuses less on raging hormones and potty-mouthed excesses and more on innocent adolescent dreams of escaping the home front and crossing that bridge from innocence to experience.
In this scenario, that timeless theme centers around three teenaged boys (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moisés Arias), who “run away” to the Ohio woods to build their ramshackle dream home from wood scraps and fantasies of a life off the grid. The parental grid worthy of escaping includes an oppressive yet ineffectual widower father (Nick Offerman, the masterful deadpan ham from TV’s Parks and Recreation), a white-bread pair of clueless parents, and another father whom we never see, except as a shaving-cream-slathered cheek and neck. Into this self-constructed boy/man environment enters one female (Erin Moriarty), disrupting the balance and adding that old hormonal crosscurrent to the story.
Somehow, for all of the rugged charms and cliché avoidances in The Kings of Summer, all the assorted pieces don’t quite come together into a film with a consistent and persuasive tone. It shuffles between lanky naturalism, loopy asides, and semblances of modern-day television mannerisms (not a bad thing, considering the elevated state of TV these days).
That said, The Kings of Summer manages to win our heart often enough, particularly in the doggish days of summer, and that’s enough to warrant a look-see.