When you can’t accept being a teenager, run away from home. With his mom in the grave and an overbearing dad, that’s how Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) copes in “Toy’s House,” a dark comedy that left its audience gasping for air at Sundance on Saturday night – and it wasn’t because of the altitude.
Joe, his friend Patrick and outsider Biaggio build a home in the woods, the construction of which director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (left) breezes through. Their carpentry skills are beside the point. It's their desire to escape, to be teenage adults that propels the story.
“He doesn’t need to run away,” Vogt-Roberts told TheWrap. “Everyone’s parents are weird and overbearing. Things are pretty good. But when you’re 15 you think you have the world figured out. Five years later you look back and realize ‘I was such an idiot.’”
Writer Chris Galletta took the idea from his personal experience, and from "Step Brothers," the 2008 movie starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. He wanted to write a movie about kids running the asylum, teens aspiring to be adults.
“I grew up on Staten Island and one of our friends’ parents were divorced,” Galletta said after the premiere. “During the summer we had run of his house because his mom worked. I thought it would be fun to literalize the idea of kids running a household.”
As for “Step Brothers,” he reversed it with 14-year-olds acting like 45-year-olds.
And we’re talking about real teenagers. Vogt-Roberts tested hundreds of teenagers before settling on his trio of Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias.
“With the kids it was really important they didn't look like movie stars,” Vogt-Roberts said. “I wanted kids who still had pimples -- not 25-year-olds playing 15.”
Blessed with a supporting cast of respected comedic actors like Nick Offerman as Joe’s dad Frank and Alison Brie as Joe’s sister Heather, Vogt-Roberts put those boys through improv training and staged endless takes on set to encourage as much spontaneity and ad-libbing as possible.
Youthful exuberance defines this movie, whose main characters encounter the inevitable romantic complication. Joe like Kelly, who has a boyfriend. When Kelly and said boyfriend split up, Joe invites her to their forested hideaway for dinner -- and hopefully a little dessert. She picks Patrick instead, sending Joe off the deep end and the movie towards its final act.
This no doubt sounds like a coming of age comedy, and it is. Yet Vogt-Roberts pursued this project for months because he saw a darker side -- a blending of genres.
He cites everyone from Stanley Kubrick to John Hughes as an inspiration, but there are two names that stand out – Terence Malick and Michael Bay.
Malick, the director of indefinable movies, a painter of portraits as much as a filmmaker, has never made a movie one would define as a comedy. Yet Vogt-Roberts wanted to give his intimate movie set in the suburbs a sense of scale and doses of impressionism. That's one reason he skips the house building, opting for a lyrical montage of the kids searching the woods for building supplies.
Bay, the lover of explosions, hot rods and scantily clad women, makes big-budget spectacles of epic scale -- the kind of movie that would never screen at Sundance. Vogt-Roberts expressed his affection for Bay on Saturday, and again on Sunday.
“I fucking love ‘Bad Boys 2,’” he told TheWrap. “People are going to change the public perception of Michael Bay. I could talk to you about John Hughes and Amblin and artistic movies that inspired me, but ‘Bad Boys 2’ is a fascinating work of art. It’s so many weird genres all fused together -- weird sketch comedy, crazy action and dark comedy.”
That love of all things Bay produced a coming of age comedy that also features rabbit skinning and a deadly snake.
Sundance is a place dream becomes reality, where Oscar campaigns are launched and small movies find their way into theaters. A high-profile supporter can help, and this one has already achieved that.
“Bad Boys 2” star Will Smith was in attendance.
“Hearing Will Smith laugh was like the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Vogt-Roberts said. “Hearing his big boisterous laugh, it was like everything is okay in the world.”