The Kings of Summer

Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias in The Kings of Summer

Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias in The Kings of Summer

 

The award-winning debut feature from Funny or Die alumnus Jordan Vogt-Roberts doesn’t actually kick off with guest star Terrence Malick bellowing the line: “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night”. But the film’s insistence on yoking SNL- friendly characterisation to visual poetics suggests that it ought to have been prefaced by the auteur (with, perhaps, Will Ferrell making bunny ears behind his head).

Tonally, The Kings of Summer can’t quite decide between dysfunctional family drama, the aesthetics of floaty Americana, Goonies-brand adventurism and outbursts of rip-roaring comedy. Oddly, in the circumstances, we’re okay with the shifting gears: after all, Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), the film’s stroppy, 15-year-old, hare-brained schemer hasn’t found his groove yet, either.

He is, nonetheless, certain about some things, mainly that he can no longer stand living with his widower dad (Offerman): a dark humorist who uses sarcasm like a wounded badger uses claws.

Outraged by the slings and arrows – dad demands he tidy away the tools, for God’s sake! – Joe storms off to the woods with Patrick (Basso) and Biaggio (Arias), where they hope to live freely and to forage and hunt “like men”. The chaps do, in fact, manage to knock together a neat makeshift house. But Joe’s Thoreauvian ideals are undermined by secret visits to the local shop for deli chicken and tinned sweetcorn.

Elsewhere, a cast culled from TV hits Community and Parks and Recreation pulls together to appeal to their comically inclined fan base. Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson are superb as overbearing parents; Nick Offerman offers finely wrought tragicomedy and Moisés Arias puts on a masterclass in banana-skin weirdness.

DOP Ross Riege’s hallucinogenic camera hovers between nature doc and early David Gordon Green; Ryan Miller’s score hits every time. These qualities prolong the appeal even after writer Chris Galletta’s witty script runs out of places to go.

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