Film review: Knowing Nods and Laughs for ‘The Kings of Summer’

KINGS OF SUMMER 1No one who is or has been a teenager needs a reminder of just how tough that transition period from child to young adult can be. But in the loopy and lovely (though dark-edged) comedy The Kings of Summer we get to laugh while knowingly nodding.

The film helmed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (in his feature directorial debut) was well received at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Now it’s out in theaters across the country, including the Regal Green Hills Stadium 16 where it first hit the screen during the 2013 Nashville Film Festival in April. There are plenty of actors known for their television work in this feature, but hopefully we’re long past the period where any snobbery attached to one’s on-camera pedigree.

KINGS OF SUMMER 5Joe Toy (Nick Robinson of “Melissa and Joey”) is a 15-year-old Ohio suburbanite whose widowed father (“Parks and Recreation” regular Nick Offerman) is caring but quite sarcastic and mean-spirited – at one point with seeming pleasure he tells a girl his son is smitten with that Joe can’t come to the phone because he’s grounded and has to be in bed early.

What’s a young guy to do? Well, Joe comes up with a getaway plan that could only work in a movie: He accidentally finds a clearing in the woods near his home that is the perfect place to build a cabin. He manages to get his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso of “The Big C”) to join him since Patrick has had his fill of his parents (Megan Mullally of “Will and Grace” fame and Marc Evan Jackson) to flee with him; a rather curious creature named Biaggio (“Hannah Montana” vet Moises Arias) makes the duo a trio.

KINGS OF SUMMER 7High school wrestler Patrick naturally becomes the hunter while Joe and Biaggio seek out the various discarded bits of junk that will make their house a home; luck overcomes inexperience when Joe manages to stumble upon a nearby store that provides their sustenance. It’s that kind of coincidence that keeps our young pioneers from going home within hours of their escape from contemporary domestic dysfunction.

The Kings of Summer is best viewed as a fantasy – it’s hard to believe in this modern technically blanketed world that these three could keep their location secret for weeks with their disappearance noted on TV and the local police on their trail. But screenwriter Chris Galletta wisely allows his teens the kind of realistic conflicts to which we can all relate, including whether Kelly (Erin Moriarty, who is in the current summer series “Red Widow”), the girl of Joe’s dreams, will give him a second thought with Patrick around. The awkwardness of this and other interactions keeps the implausibility of other story elements from being so important.

KINGS OF SUMMER 2The acting is quite good, particularly from the youngsters, Offerman and Mullally, but no one is a weak link; Vogt-Roberts’ pacing, cinematographer Ross Riege’s framing and Ryan Miller’s score help create a nicely accomplished package. And despite an uptight ‘R’ rating for language and drinking (Horrors! The youth of today, so different from previous generations – not) The Kings of Summer is no titillating thrill ride for the younger set; within its movieland suburbia rests more than a few grains of teenage angst and truth.

The Kings of Summer ( is now playing at the Regal Green Hills Stadium 16 (3815 Green Hills Village Dr.) in Nashville; check for times. Rated R for language and some teen drinking, 95 min.  Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and written by Chris Galletta. Starring Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Erin Moriarty, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson, Erin Moriarty, Alison Brie and Mary Lynn Rajskub.


*Photos by Julie Hahn courtesy CBS Films.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (