The point in life when childhood is eclipsed by puberty is an emotional rollercoaster involving a myriad of awkward changes. Not only do you begin to develop your own sense of self and a greater awareness of the world you live in, but you finally ‘get’ beer and the girl next door’s budding chest is doing a little more for you than it used to. For these reasons, the coming of age story is the best film fodder going ‘round.
Cinema’s long love affair with the coming of age film has given audiences some exceptional titles including Rebel Without A Cause (1955), Stand By Me (1986), My Girl (1991), An Education (2009) and anything by John Hughes. Each film casts a shining light on the moment it becomes painfully obvious the protagonist(s) have crossed into the next big stage in life, leaving the viewer with a certain amount of clarity about their own lot because, hey man, we’ve all been there.
The Kings Of Summer is just one of this year’s coming of age offerings (The Way Way Back is another). It ticks all the right boxes. It has a motherless teen heartthrob, a dastardly dad dealing with his own shit, the dream girl busying herself with a terrible older boyfriend and a best friend who is equally fed up with his boring parents, but is somehow still lacking.
Joe Toy (newcomer Nick Robinson) is fed up with his dad’s stern style of parenting, following the death of his mum. After stumbling across a secluded clearing in the woods just outside of town, Joe convinces his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) to run away from home. Joined by local misfit, Biaggio (Moises Arias) the trio build a woodland retreat and begin to live off the land.
Rather than being the heartfelt and charming film it could’ve been, The Kings of Summer gets far too caught up in itself with too many slow-motion montages of teens lying in long grass and dappled sunlight, which is a shame because Robinson (who I’m picking to be ‘the next big thing’) could’ve nailed the lead role, but the overwhelming feeling that the film was padded-out to make the 95-minute runtime makes me think he never stood a chance. Instead, The Kings of Summer is nothing but an ogle-fest for cougars with a taste for barely legal*, all-American boys set to soft indie music.
It’s also a shame because, despite the central cast all being relative newcomers, the supporting actors are so great and were great in this film. Nick Offerman (the formidable Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation) plays Joe’s dad, while Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men) is the cool older sister away at college. Megan Mullally (Will & Grace, Parks and Recreation) is excellent as Patrick’s dull suburban mother, with every scene she appears in being hers for the taking.
The biggest problem with The Kings of Summer is…er… the problems. It may have been the dialogue and it could’ve been the plot structure, but nothing in this film felt so terrible that these boys needed to abandon society and traipse into the woods. There was a golden opportunity to really explore the disillusionment many teens feel. Some great themes such as grief, feeling like an outsider, friendship and young love were all skimmed over and given the Disney treatment, sucking the life out of real issues. If more time was spent developing characters and less time finding the perfect soft filter to film the gratuitous nature sequences, this film would have been a million times better.
The Kings of Summer is by no means a bad movie, but when you consider the greats this genre has turned out, and how little it would have taken to make it a great film, it’s no great success. It doesn’t have the heart or the camaraderie of Stand By Me or the lucid realisations about life that An Education had. It was just…good, I guess.
*You can relax ladies, Nick Robinson is 18. I checked.