As we enter September, it’s difficult, on reflection, not to feel disappointed with this summer’s cinematic releases. The films we never held out hopes for didn’t surprise us (Pain and Gain, The Lone Ranger) but even those we were excited about (Only God Forgives, The Worlds End) equally failed to deliver. So, in the context of these weary disappointments, it’s pleasant to be reminded you can still stumble upon a gem in an empty cinema on a weekday night.
In contrast to recent coming-of-age movies, Kings of Summer’s wit and charm in presenting the transition from frustrated adolescence to disenchanted adulthood makes it an unexpected movie of the summer.
With obvious parallels to Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age classic Stand By Me, Kings of Summer is the story of three friends escaping the drudgery of suburbia to build a house in a clearing in the woods. Vowing to kill their own food and ‘live as men’, all is well in their newly forged Garden of Eden until an all-too-predictable Eve enters the scene to wreak havoc.
The first outing for director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta, the strength of Kings of Summer lies in its believable characters, portrayed by big-screen novices as well as some familiar faces from US sitcoms. Stand-outs include Megan Mullaly (the squeaky one from Will and Grace) whose depiction of an on-edge suburban Mum, who inadvertently turns racist when anxious, is scene-stealing. However, the performance of the movie is Moisés Arias’ Biaggio. Originally giving the impression of a comic third wheel, this complex character is a kooky kid who isn’t a shrivelling basket case; a stark contrast to the kind of skin-crawling pathologisation of ‘outsider’ adolescence at the heart of last year’s indie hit Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Indeed, while Kings of Summer has all the soft-focus hallmarks of ‘off-beat’ American cinema, this is an indie movie of the old-school variety, not the usual Fox Searchlight/Miramax fare. It’s indie in production, not indie in genre, meaning that while it’s free to roam, unshackled from commercial incentives, through the wilderness of Terrence Malick-esque cinematography, even stopping for the occasional interpretive dance, it doesn’t have the pretension of recent Wes Anderson outings or angsty hipster undertones.