Every September I get this feeling of dread cut through my gut. It happens whenever I see signs for “Back To School” sales. It’s been years since I’ve sat in a classroom, but there’s still some sort of psychological hold it has on me. Growing up sucks. While I now look back on my school days with fond memories, at the time there was lot of unnecessary anxiety and pressure that seemed so damn important. It wasn’t. Yet, I still get that feeling… like an amputee’s ghost pain shooting through a phantom limb. I never want Summer to end!! Well, what if it didn’t have to? On 9/24 “The Kings of Summer” will arrive on Blu-Ray and attempt to run away from responsibility, heartache and the cold autumn of adulthood.
After the death of his mother, young Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) has found life with his now single father (Nick Offerman) to be nearly unbearable. The two are always at odds and regardless of who’s right or wrong, neither backs down. Fed up with being told how to live his life, Joe declares his freedom and hatches a plan to take control of his own destiny. With his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso), whose clueless parents are smothering to a hive-filled death and some oddball kid named Biaggio (Moises Arias), he sets off into the woods, eager to build a new life of independence. The boys find a clearing, build a house and begin hunting for their supper. One such hunt leads to a Boston Market, which winds up being the main source of sustenance for the suburban teens. With no parents, no chores and all the juicy rotisserie chicken you could want, life is pretty sweet. Then comes the girl. When Joe invites Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the girl he’s been crushing on forever, to come see the house, she ends up falling for Patrick instead. To make matters worse, he likes her back. Suddenly the boys are thrown back into reality when their happy home is shattered by conflict, emotions and just growing up.
Many have compared “The Kings of Summer” to “Stand By Me” and “Moonrise Kingdom“… which is pretty unfair since it’s not as good as the former and more enjoyable than the latter. I guess any time someone does a coming-of-age movie well it’s required to set it next to “Stand By Me” for side-by-side scrutiny. Story-wise, “Kings” is closer to “Moonrise”, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts actually manages to out-Wes Anderson Wes Anderson. Going off of a humorous and touching script by Chris Galletta, Vogt-Roberts calls to mind early Anderson or a less “hipster” version of the one we have now. The characters can be quirky and strange or completely heartbreaking and real. Be it Nick Offerman’s bone-dry sarcasm that’s ready to erupt with years worth of pent-up hurt and anger or Moises Arias’ over the top eccentricity tempered with unending loyalty, this director revels in the depth of his characters. He loves throwing curve balls in either the direction of comedic levity or crushing sadness, then sits back and watches the reaction with a palpable giddiness.
Naturally, this is most effective when you’re dealing with actors who handle delivering such a wide range of emotions. Just about every single performance in this movie is spot on, especially Nick Offerman. I wasn’t sure if I hated or felt sa for Offerman’s “Frank” character, but he felt very real to me. This is a guy who used to be a scout master or a baseball coach when I was growing up. He was also the guy you could piss off enough to lose his cool in front of everyone. I recognized this man. Megan Mullally is amazing as Patrick’s tragically unhip mother and Moises Arias is hilarious even if he’s just reacting to whatever is happening in the foreground. But the real heart I feel, lies between Nick Robinson’s “Joe” and Gabriel Basso’s “Patrick”. Both actors are still in their teens, but deliver honest and heartfelt performances. Robinson in particular hits a home run after having has heartbroken, going from teary eyes, to world-collapsing deprssion and then ultimately to rage. There’s a lot of heavy stuff to hang on this young actor’s shoulders, but he bears the weight well.
The Blu-Ray is another top-notch Sony release. The colors are rich, the picture is sharp and even the most minute details in the woods show up crystal clear. The same can be said for the sound, which shines through on a 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround soundtrack. Ambient noises and music fill the channels, taking particular advantage of forest sounds. Dialogue utilizes the center channels and is crisp as the film’s high def picture. Into extras? ”The Kings of Summer” blu-ray is loaded; there’s a cast and crew commentary, cast interviews, deleted/extended scenes and several featurettes. This is one title that Sony didn’t skimp with and it’s worth every penny.
“The Kings of Summer” scores an impressive 3.5 of 4 angels. One of the better coming of age movies to come out in recent time, it hits all the right notes from comedy to drama while providing a character who actually seems to grow over the course of his arc. Yes, Summer’s over, but there’s something bittersweet in knowing that it doesn’t last forever; it can’t last forever. At least we can live vicariously through each new generation and remember how we enjoyed our short time in the sun.