It might not have the lyricism of “Mud,” the eccentricity of “Moonrise Kingdom” or the angst of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” but “The Kings of Summer” brings its own strengths to the table, from the oddball wit of Chris Galletta’s screenplay to a charming ensemble cast that includes vets like Nick Offerman and Mary-Lynn Rajskub as well as a slew of young TV talent.
This big-screen debut from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is a delightful spree, a goofy lark and the perfect hot-weather diversion for audiences who want summer movie escapism without summer blockbuster gigantism.
Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) have just finished their freshman year in high school and are facing a dreary summer of parental supervision; not that their parents are awful or abusive, just irritating. Joe’s dad Frank (Offerman) hasn’t been doing the whole widower thing all that well, alienating his son in the process, while Patrick’s folks (played by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are equal parts meddling and clueless.
Fed up with their home lives and itching to get out on their own, Joe and Patrick, along with odd duck Biaggio (Moises Arias), who has attached himself to them, find a beautiful and secluded stretch of land in the woods not far from their suburban Ohio homes. And even though the movie begins with Joe building a spectacularly terrible birdhouse for his shop final (which was due the previous week), the three chums manage to build a passable shack out of filched two-by-fours, a swimming-pool slide, the door of a porta-potty and various other pieces of construction detritus.
While the parents go on the hunt for their missing kids – with very little help from local cops Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch – the boys have a swell time swimming in lakes, climbing trees, letting their pubescent beards grow and generally avoiding adult supervision.
The plotting here is as breezy as our heroes’ summer vacation: Will Biaggio ever succeed at hunting down dinner that isn’t from Boston Market? Can Joe and Patrick’s friendship survive their mutual interest in pretty classmate Kelly (Erin Moriarty)? Will Frank and Joe ever learn to play a friendly family game of Monopoly without one of them calling the cops?
Robinson (“Melissa & Joey”) and Basso (“The Big C”) have a relaxed, comfortable rapport, and almost everything uttered by Arias (“Hannah Montana”) feels like a wonderfully weird non sequitur. So the young cast more than holds up its end of the comedy, even balanced against an impressive collection of veterans (that also includes Alison Brie as Joe’s older sister and Tony Hale as an alarmist parent).
And while the laughs come like clockwork, we come to care about Joe as well – we want Frank to learn how to be a better parent, and we also want Joe (whose scruffy mustache becomes almost a character unto itself by the end) not to let his feelings for Kelly get in the way of his lifelong bond with Patrick.
“The Kings of Summer” is a glossy teenage fantasia, but it sails through without leaving behind any victims. On the contrary, it’s so amiable that you can sense empathy for almost everyone on screen. And what could be better, when it’s too hot outside to argue?