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kings of summer - poster 1

Having heard so much about Jordan Vogt-RobertsThe Kings of Summer after its debut at Sundance, I waited patiently, as I often have to do, to see if it would hit my town in theaters. Alas, that was not to be the case and, like many others, had to wait for the DVD release. So I finally was able to sit down and watch it this weekend. It was worth the wait.

Why won't they just leave us alone?

Why won’t they just leave us alone? Patrick and Joe contemplate shitty parents over a game on Super Nintendo.

Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are two 15-year old best friends who are tired of their parents’ shit. Really, what 15-year old isn’t tired of their parents’ shit? Joe’s mom passed away and he and his father (the always awesome Nick Offerman) are at odds. Over everything. Joe has a reputation as a troublemaker and seemingly does this just to spite his father, who describes his son as a “mama’s boy” who has been lost since his mother died. Patrick comes from a loving household with parents (Megan Mullaly and Marc Evan Jackson) who simply smother Patrick, not allowing him to breathe and be himself. After an incident involving a shady deal in between his father and his sister’s boyfriend in Monopoly, Joe decides he has had enough. Patrick, who has gotten hives because his parents are so overbearing, agrees to that something must be done. They decide on the course of action – they are to run away, become their own men and live off the fat of the land.

After dispersing from a party only a few nights before, Joe and a weird kid named Biaggio (Moises Arias) find themselves in a secluded clearing in the middle of the woods. Biaggio joins Joe and Patrick to complete the triumvirate. And it is in this clearing that they will build their destiny.

Biaggio: It's every day that you see someone biking with a machete, right?

Biaggio: It’s every day that you see someone biking with a machete, right?

The boys collect and steal scrap materials, borrow parents’ tools and use books from the library to provide guidance on how to build a shelter. Once it is complete, their plan on getting away is put into motion. After pilfering their family cupboards and parents’ wallets, they break away from their families to become one with the outdoors.

Our house is a very, very, very fine house...

Our house is a very, very, very fine house…

Operating from the slapdash house in the clearing, the boys set forth on a journey to discover who they are and test the limits of their friendships. They create their own rules as they embark.

“We do swear from this day forthwith to boil our own water, kill our own food, build our own shelter, and be our own men.”

All seems to go well with the three boys until Kelly (Erin Moriarity) inadvertently comes between Patrick and Joe, who has had a terrible crush on her for quite some time. When she visits the house with two other friends, Joe believes his time with her has come only to be blindsided when Kelly makes moves on Patrick. This cleavage in the friendship tips the already fragile balance in the house, causing Patrick to leave and Joe to expel Biaggio leaving him all alone to commune with himself and figure out what his goals are now that the others are gone.

Kelly and Patrick, the agents of Joe's heartbreak.

Kelly and Patrick, the agents of Joe’s heartbreak.

Joe’s family is left to wonder where he is, especially after the other two return to town. When Kelly feels bad about the problems she’s caused, She reaches out to Joe’s father and leads him to where Joe is. While there, the three of them and the ever ninja-like Biaggio are put through a life-threatening situation which garners Joe some respect from his father and helps to repair the damage done by the relationship between Patrick and Kelly.

This is one of the more satisfying teen-focused films I’ve seen in quite some time, the last one as good was surprisingly The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The characters are believable, which is hard to find in teen films, and the sense of true adventure that permeates this film is welcome. Who wouldn’t have wanted to do this when their parents were assholes when we younger? Building a fort in the woods and doing as you please…sign me up.

I have to say that Moises Arias stole the show for me. His interpretive dances and general weirdness were quite amusing and a nice addition to what could have been a typical teen film. The other star of this film was Ross Riege‘s photography. I mean, who else could make Cleveland look as good as it does in this film?  Chris Galletta‘s script was fresh and gave us more than a standard teen angst situation. Alison Brie was fine in the role of Joe’s sister, but it wasn’t a terribly meaty role. I appreciated that the role of Kelly wasn’t treated like some spider woman, preying on two friends. The nature of her and Patrick’s relationship is organic so it’s easy not to hate her because she slighted the main character.

Vogt-Roberts is another young director to watch out for. If he keeps making films like these, we’re sure to see some great films.

Here’s the trailer: