The Kings of Summer
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
This American independent comedy, which made something of a splash at Sundance under the title Toy’s House, emphasizes that parental mortification heats up when school lets out. Early on, wry hard-ass Frank Toy (Nick Offerman) comes knocking on the bathroom door as his son Joe (Nick Robinson) masturbates in the shower, and then the widower brings his new girlfriend to “game night,” demanding mandatory family attendance. Across town, the hopelessly lame Mr. (Marc Evan Jackson) and Mrs. Keenan (Megan Mullally) smother only-child Patrick (Gabriel Basso)—even making hushed conversation about what shirt he’s chosen to wear. Partners in crime, Joe and Patrick trade horror stories over some basement Super Nintendo, setting off this movie’s uneasy oscillation between flagrantly “offbeat” humor and airier analog nostalgia.
The escape plan begins to crystallize as Joe walks home from a kegger and comes upon a moonlit clearing in the woods where he, Patrick, and illegibly bizarro third wheel Biaggio (Moises Arias) build a jerry-rigged home modeled on those they have fled—there is even a mailbox out front, though they resolve to keep communication with the outside world to a minimum lest they be located and dragged back home. (Not unlike the recent Mud, this movie relies on a frustrating overvaluation of how easy it is to remain undetected in a not-quite-off-the-grid patch of wilderness.)
One repeated joke has the newly scruffy friends retreating to a highway Boston Market for their food, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta spend a disconcertingly short proportion of the runtime on this slo-mo-heavy alternative-idyll section. Joe and Patrick eventually have it out over a young woman who sells golf-course refreshments, thus putting them on the expectedly tortuous path to family-and-friends priority realignment. Along the way, The Kings of Summer strains to strike an edgy-yet-innocuous note, but the element of largely unexamined suburban-privilege too often throws the balance. Roughly midway through, we are presented with a particularly off-putting spectacle: the friends heedlessly consolidate pretend capital during a charged game of Monopoly in their summer home, a structure that in its slapdash assembly (a roof made of overlapping sheets of corrugated metal, a door yanked off a worksite Porta-Potty) resembles nothing so much as an oversize favela.
Opens May 31