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The Kings of Summer

Sundance 2013 Review

CBS Films; 93 minutes

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Written by on January 27, 2013 

In the post-screening Q&A for the entertaining, free-spirited coming-of-age adventure The Kings of Summer, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts remarked how many comedies nowadays don’t look far removed from prime-time sitcoms, insisting that he and his crew wanted to bring a level of visual rejuvenation to the genre. From the first few moments of the film, one can easily glean their conviction, as this story is filled with compelling imagery and kinetic editing. Unfortunately, for a film clearly attempting to hit the funnybone, the script only comes off amusing and doesn’t often hit a comedic stride.

Joe Toy (a convincing Nick Robinson) is fed up with his father’s (Nick Offerman) strict, character-building single parenting and is desperate to find a way to escape. After a brief night of partying, along with his friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and an odd, but endearing schoolmate named Biaggio (Gabriel Basso), he happens upon an undisclosed area in the woods and an idea sparks. In order to escape from his seemingly constrictive lifestyle he sets out to build a secret house, only for this small group of people, but as emotions get involved things begins to escalate.

Comparisons to Stand By Me and other similar films are apt, as Vogt-Roberts nails the camaraderie and friendship between this trio — and especially the bitterness that can occur when something gets in the way. However, when he shoots for straight-up comedy (admittedly, an area that can be highly subjective), it never hits a high note. Biaggio will often have random one-liners that are entertaining diversions, as well as Offerman’s dry humor, but with our director aiming for a serious execution in his filmmaking style, the two don’t often gel.

Clearly influenced by Steven Spielberg‘s early works, with a touch of Wes Anderson, Toy’s House does have an Amblin-esque approach that’s appreciated. Not only does Vogt-Roberts have a mind for cinematography, there’s a light-hearted videogame-style score (and even a few references) that demonstrates this newcomer can effectively convey the mindset of the youth experience. The film is an examination of the seemingly eternal feeling of freedom a teenager can possess and what happens when one must face the truths of life. While Toy’s House could use some tightening, it is convincing declaration that Jordan Vogt-Roberts has a style like few other directors in the genre, and one can only hope he can bring new life to Hollywood’s conventional comedic landscape.


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