Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Kings of Summer (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
The Kings of Summer

"The Kings of Summer" is a film in a genre that has been done to death and back again, but refreshingly the familiar coming of age film now has a resurrection.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is a fifteen year old stifled by his controlling and condescending father (Nick Offerman) who is portrayed as a forbidding walrus-man. The father makes his son's life hell, criticizing him, restricting him and watching his every move. Joe literally has no place to go to achieve tranquility. By way of coping, he imagines semi-surreal mind trips where his father is in a harmless capacity.
Joe's friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) isn't faring any better. He's stuck with his emasculating chattering mother (Megan    Mullally) and his milquetoast dad (Marc Evan Jackson). Patrick's parents give him actual hives.
Nothing goes right for Joe; he is bullied at school. To blow some steam he takes off for a party and is unceremoniously grounded. During a walk with Patrick, he finds an isolated area of rich verdant green with wilds, far removed from suburbia. It is Eden to them.
Joe resolves to become liberated, self-reliant and his own man. After some reluctance, Patrick agrees to join him. What follows is a rollicking, tilting tale of boys attempting to find independence through nature with stylistic nods to the films "Stand by Me" and "Into the Wild". While it is very much a comedy with some fanciful touches, it is also quite serious as we watch these boys dance and cavort like dark imps as they strive to provide for themselves. The story does not shy away from pathos. What starts out as something akin to Richard Donner's "The Goonies" soon becomes a "Lord of the Flies" precautionary tale, but the humor is never far afield.
The cinematography by Ross Riege is first-rate, in its illustrations of both the  indifference and the whimsical varieties of the natural world. There are a few montages of the boys striving to be painted within nature as they run with machetes that speak of dark menace as if they were characters in a pint sized James Dickey novel of knives and savagery.
Special mention should be given to actor Moises Arias (Hannah Montana) who plays one of the strangest kid roles that I've ever seen---he's a bit like Peter Lorre or something from Poe--- but stranger still, as the stunted misfit Biaggio, he will steal your heart, or at the very least, as it occurs in the film, get into your mind.
  One minor slight is in the portrayals of the parents who seem a bit blandly rendered in contrast to the resolute and passionate teens. But while this might play a little silly, it feels a tribute to every coming of age director from Steven Spielberg to Robert Zemeckis and John Hughes. Nick Offerman's character especially rises with a well rounded charge by the end of the film, and while Megan Mullally plays for giggles her distracted chatter that almost reaches a height of absurdity is instantly recognizable.
"The Kings of Summer" is vibrant and brimming with motion. The shifts in tone from lightness to a gray meditation are refreshing and unsentimental. This is a film that takes the  teenage world seriously as an irreverent and festive experience complete with its own ghosts of fragility.

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