By Don Simpson | May 29, 2013
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writer: Chris Galletta
Starring: Nick Robinson, Nick Offerman, Erin Moriarty, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Megan Mullally, Craig Cackowski, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Alison Brie, Eugene Cordero
Not all that long ago, kids used to fantasize about running away from home and living in the wilderness. It was certainly not uncommon for kids to build a fort or treehouse as a home away from their nagging parents. For many kids this was a rite of passage, a dipping of their toes into the pool of [perceived] absolute freedom. Nowadays parents are much too paranoid about pedophiles and serial killers to allow their kids any such expression of independence, while kids are much too obsessed with videogames and social media to care about the outdoors.
In this modern world, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer plays like an inconceivable fairytale. The concept seems so unbelievably absurd that three high school boys would grow so sick of their parents that they would construct a house in a presumably vast forest that just so happens to be located somewhere in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. Considering that the de facto leader — Joe (Nick Robertson) — can barely build a birdhouse, this scheme becomes all that more unfathomable. Joined by his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and an eerily strange hanger-on Biaggio (Moises Arias), Joe is somehow able to orchestrate the construction of a livable structure, but the boys are unable to enjoy a sustainable diet without secretly relying upon a nearby Boston Market.
Their plan is destined to fail horribly, thanks in no small part to a flirtatious heart-breaker (Erin Moriarty). Rather than ever trying to convince the audience that they might try to take this story in an unexpected direction, Vogt-Roberts and Galletta opt to rely upon absurd humor to keep things interesting. Then again, The Kings of Summer could not end any other way, because it would be incredibly irresponsible for Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta to represent running away from home in a positive light. That does not prevent Vogt-Roberts and Galletta from having the parents (Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson, Michael Cipiti) learn the greater life lesson — that kids need some room to grow.
The overtly fictional elements throughout The Kings of Summer allows the story to function as a fantasy flick, eschewing reality for the most part. The exaggerations might be rooted in Joe’s own escapist perspective, but the timelessness of the story suggests that story might come from the nostalgic dreams of the filmmakers’ youth. Regardless, The Kings of Summer taps into my own sense of nostalgia, which is precisely what makes the film work for me. It triggers a flurry of daydreams about my youthful expressions of freedom, those days on end that I used to spend fully immersed in the woods behind my parents’ suburban home fantasizing about living a much more primitive existence, hunting and foraging in the wild. Looking back, I know that if I ever attempted to live such a life, I would have failed just as miserably as Joe. In the end, Joe’s failure is not his own fault — there is just not enough room in our modern world for teenagers to be building ramshackle houses in suburban green spaces. For better or worse, our society does not permit such expressions of personal freedom, but The Kings of Summer allows us to contemplate what life might be like if that was actually a possibility.