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Movie review: ‘The Kings of Summer’

Posted 4:44pm on Thursday, Jun. 06, 2013

R (strong language, teen drinking); 93 min.

The Kings of Summer is the cinematic equivalent of an Arctic-cold popsicle on a Sahara-hot day. Refreshing and satisfying but not overly sentimental, the film taps into the frustrations of adolescence with warmth and wit.

It’s also a confident calling card for first-time features director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, novice screenwriter Chris Galletta and a trio of young stars who may lose the cloak of anonymity after this. Indeed, they’ve set a high bar for themselves.

Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) are Ohio high-school sophomores and best friends who, facing the end of the school year and another summer in the company of clueless parents, decide to run away from home. But they’re not heading to the bright, beckoning lights of L.A. or New York. Instead, they’re going deep in the local woods to build their own house where they can live out their Boys’ Life dreams.

Tagging along is oddball classmate Biaggio (Moises Arias), a short spark plug of a boy for whom every day seems to be a vacation from mundane reality. Pushing Biaggio’s impish personality to a comical extreme, Arias steals every scene he’s in.

Everything’s ready for the most perfect summer ever, but there’s one thing from Joe’s old world that he can’t shake: his crush on Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the girl from school who’s going out with someone else.

Of course, the boys’ fantasies of splendid isolation don’t go quite as planned, but, along the way, they learn a thing or two about themselves and their friendship.

Vogt-Roberts, channeling both Stand By Me-era Rob Reiner and the collected works of Wes Anderson, manages to capture the essence of young guyhood without turning the new digs into a would-be frat house. There’s a sweet, throwback quality to The Kings of Summer, as if every testosterone-fueled, teen-slob film since Porky’s never existed.

As with Jeff Nichols’ more dramatic Mud, Kings is a deeply shaded though comedic portrait of male adolescence. That makes the one misstep — a broad, one-dimensional caricature of the parents (especially Patrick’s) — a little disappointing.

But that’s a small quibble. Like last year’s surprise summer hit Moonrise Kingdom, The Kings of Summer deserves to be the non-star-driven, non-special effects-riddled must-see movie of the season.

And, unlike a popsicle, it won’t melt from your memory so quickly.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas

— Cary Darling

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