Grade: A-

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally

As far as coming-of-age movies go, Jordan Vogt-Roberts' The Kings of Summer is by the book at one minute and completely unique the next. Powered by some topnotch performances by the young main cast, the film rests in the same league as other recent genre films of the same nature, like The Way, Way Back and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Joe (Nick Robinson), a bored and frustrated teen who lives at home with his single dad, reaches his limit with his family's antics and the people around him. When he inadvertently finds a clearing in the woods one night after a party mishap, Joe concocts the ultimate fantasy plan: grab his best friend, build a house, and live like real men in the woods for the summer. No parents. No rules. No bull crap. Just nature and freedom.

With his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and an awkward straggler, Biaggio (Moises Arias), Joe powers through the struggles of creating the ultimate dream pad until the dream is a reality. While they enjoy the terrain of the local forest and the joys of not shaving (even though none of them can really grow any facial hair just yet), the guys struggle between how to effectively hunt (they find a Boston Market nearby and pretend the "chicken" they end up eating was found in the woods) and how to effectively juggle friendship when it's put to the test.

The key to the film is the clever script by Chris Galletta. The screenplay sat on the Black List of scripts a few years ago (next to other screenplays like The Social Network), so it's a relief that it actually got made. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek and dry humor to be had, creating a stylistic and unique type of comedy. It's as if Stand by Me morphed with an entire season of "Parks and Recreation".

Speaking of the hit NBC series, Nick Offerman leads some great supporting work here as Joe's demeaning father. After Joe and co. run off, Offerman's Frank is the only logical thinker amongst the adults involved. His logic gets in the way of his compassion, though. Megan Mullally is a scene-stealer as Patrick's over-bearing mother. She takes the idea of "helicopter parent" to a new level. Robinson, Basso, and Arias are the true stars here. The bond between Joe and Patrick is right in line with any best friendship we've all experienced before. Even when tension arises, the joy comes in knowing it isn't going to last too long and a quick punch to the arm or inappropriate hand gesture makes all right in the world. Arias' Biaggio is such a peculiar character that he ends up with some of the films most memorable moments.

The Kings of Summer is the unique film that tells the story of a group of kids, but resonates with adults. While there are probably not too many of us who have run away and built a house in the woods, we've all longed for the freedom to throw responsibility out the door and enjoy life to the fullest without looking back. Vogt-Roberts succeeds in creating a unique and pleasant reminder of what it's like to come of age and realize some of what life is all about.

I missed the movie when it had its short and limited run in theaters, but it's successful festival run means we may hear more about this film as the award season gets started. It's definitely worthy of a few mentions here and there.

Rating: R
Runtime: 95 minutes

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