I keep mentioning this but it’s worth repeating again: 2013 in film is the year of the coming-of-age film. This summer had four major films set around coming-of-age stories. The Spectacular Now (released in August) and The Way, Way Back (released in July) were not only great coming-of-age films, but also just great films in general (don’t be surprised if you see them show up in my top 10 lists or personal awards). Then there was Mud (released in May). While not as good as the first two, Mud was a solid film featuring great performances and another strong effort from one of the most promising up-and-coming directors. With three films as strong as these three it was hard not to notice the trend. Backing those three films up, though, was a film that did not receive the same amount of attention: The Kings of Summer. While The Kings of Summer is not as good as those three films, it is a coming-of-age film that does enough right to overshadow its weaknesses.
The Kings of Summer follows Joe (Nick Robinson), a high school freshman, who is fed up with living with his divorced and pessimistic father (Nick Offerman). While running away from a disgruntled neighbor during a kegger, he stumbles across a quiet and open place in the woods. He comes up with the idea to begin a new life there with two friends (Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias). The film is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (a television comedy director) and is written by Chris Galletta (making his screenwriting debut).
This film has an interesting and enjoyable storyline. The writing is strong enough to make it easy for you to become invested in the characters despite most of them having numerous flaws. You actually want to know what will happen to these characters. The problem is that it seems like Jordan Vogt-Roberts didn’t have enough faith in the script or the young actors he casted. He uses a variety of visual gimmicks that ultimately take away from a film that would have been better off with a laidback directing style.
That’s a shame because the script and (especially) the cast are strong enough to work on their own. Nick Robinson has received a lot of attention in Hollywood as of late (so much so that he landed a lead role in Jurassic World). After seeing this film it is easy to see why. Robinson acts like a natural as the lead character. He showcases a lot of charisma while giving a lot of depth to his performance. Robinson delivers such a strong performance that he almost plays Gabriel Basso off the screen despite the latter giving a solid performance as Joe’s best friend. Meanwhile, Moises Arias delivers an interesting performance as the quirky third lead. There’s really nothing of note coming from the supporting cast. Nick Offerman just isn’t that interesting in his role while Alison Brie doesn’t get enough screen time to really matter. However, Erin Moriarty is solid as the female lead.
The Kings of Summer has its problems, but it gets by thanks to a strong lead performance and a script that has its moments.