Movie review: ‘Kings of Summer’ turns into a charming, touching tale

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTEAugust 2, 2013 

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Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias and Nick Robinson play three teens who find freedom in the forest in “The Kings of Summer.”

  • THE KINGS OF SUMMER

    •••

    Rated: R for language and some teen drinking. Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias. Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Running time: 95 minutes. Theaters: Flicks.

After Joe’s dad insists, yet again, “My house, my rules,” the teenager figures out how to build his own house in the woods where he can make or mock those rules in “The Kings of Summer.”

Joe (Nick Robinson) and his widowed father, Frank (Nick Offerman), see eye to eye on, well, nothing, from the protracted length of the teen’s showers to the dad’s order that the 15-year-old participate in family game night. But it’s the first such Monopoly match since Joe’s mother died, and making matters worse, Frank has invited a woman he is dating.

It doesn’t end well, fueling Joe’s desire to escape to a place where no one will find him. That turns out to be a clearing in the woods he discovers by accident.

Joe invites his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), an only child whose parents are driving him crazy with attention, worry and nerdy middle-age chatter about ciabatta bread, vegetable soup and a movie they watched “on the cable.”

A third kid, oddball Biaggio (Moises Arias), ends up tagging along as they build a house largely out of found, liberated or repurposed materials, and while it would never land in Architectural Digest, it’s home, sweet, home.

“The Kings of Summer,” directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and written by Chris Galletta, was filmed in Chagrin Falls and other northeastern Ohio locations last summer.

It makes you feel the trio’s giddy freedom, whether running shirtless through tall grass, dancing around a fire or heading out to hunt for food, which doesn’t exactly turn out as planned. Neither does the bond among the boys once outsiders, invited or uninvited, come calling.

“Kings,” which shows teens surviving without being tethered to TV, video games or smartphones, is a funny, high-spirited charmer — with an injection of suspense thanks to an event telegraphed early on, fractured friendships and low-key, heartfelt reconciliations.

Megan Mullally, the real-life wife of “Parks and Recreation” actor Offerman, appears as Patrick’s mother. Other notables: Marc Evan Jackson is Patrick’s dad; Alison Brie, best known as Trudy Campbell on “Mad Men” and Annie Edison on “Community,” is Joe’s older sister; and Erin Moriarty plays the girl of Joe’s dreams.

“Kings” makes a major misstep by including enough adult language and teen drinking to earn an R rating. That means tweens and younger teens, the very audience that would be fascinated by these slightly older boys or most identify with them, cannot legally buy tickets and go with their friends without their pesky parents in tow.

Because if they’re anything like the boys here, they will want to run for the woods instead of sharing an armrest with mom or dad in the dark.

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