REVIEW: The Kings of Summer

23 04 2013

The Kings of SummerRiverRun International Film Festival

More and more, I’ve come to appreciate movies that can use montage to great effect.  Scenes have their own power, sure.  We remember those scenes from our own life; they constitute reality.  But that’s not always how we remember our lives.  We see them in glimpses and flashes, which add up to make truth.

Even though it might not connect at every moment, sometimes a well-edited montage can capture the ephemera of life with such raw power that they tap into and connect with something deep within ourselves.  The most obvious example in recent memory is Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” whose camera floats through life itself and reaches you with evocative imagery (even if its story leaves you unmoved or just plain confounded).  More subtly, films like “Up in the Air” and “The Artist” have caught these moments of fleeting joy in well-cut dance scenes.

The Kings of Summer,” though it features a compelling narrative that plays like “Superbad” meets “Moonrise Kingdom,” is at its best when it captures these brief snapshots of unfettered adolescence.  Though I’m still in the process of moving into full independence, I can look back on the days of yearning for escape from my parents’ house with the slightest bit of nostalgia.  And while the majority of the film is silliness and shenanigans, every once in a while an image would flash on the screen that really got at something subconscious within me.

The Kings of Summer

That’s not to slight the story, although my main reservations about “The Kings of Summer” do spring from the writing and direction. I think the film did not quite take the time to think through its aesthetic contract with the audience, leaving me to wonder to what extent I was supposed to suspend my disbelief for much of the film.  Eventually, I just learned to kick back and enjoy the ride, as the film is essentially a fantasy tale taking place in a reality very similar to our own.

It’s a world where all parents are über-lame just for being old – even when they have the deadpan delivery of Ron Swanson, I mean, Nick Offerman.  The authorities are even more bumbling than usual, epitomized by the brilliant meta-casting of Mary Lynn Rajskub (the psychotic and unstable Chloe from TV’s “24”) as the film’s main police officer.  High school is a place of falseness, emasculation, and belittling.  What reason is there to stay?

It’s a question most of us have asked at some point in our lives, and we go to vicariously live out our suppressed desires in the movies.  “The Kings of Summer” is merely the latest in these indulgent films, though its R-rating from very crude (and might I say, honest) humor will exclude many of those who most directly share the characters’ longings.  The teenage Wolfpack – because “The Hangover” dictated great comedy teams must come in groups of three – moves out to the woods and construct a house of their own.

Hilarity ensues as Joe (Nick Robinson) and Patrick (Gabriel Basso) attempt to assert their manliness in the primal setting … and the bizarre Biaggio (Moises Arias of “Hannah Montana” fame) channels his best Zach Galifianakis for easy laughs.  But quickly, the film takes a sharp turn for the serious as the pain the boys try to escape comes rushing in.  Conflicts over dominance and conquest of women drives a wedge between Joe and Patrick that doesn’t just work itself out naturally.

As always, they come to learn some lessons, although “The Kings of Summer” manages never to strike a note of falseness in its resolution.  Hollywood gets its way in the end, and the age-old message gets reiterated once again: kids cannot live in fantasy, they must learn to squelch these impulses and face the adult world.

But cinema dwells in the realm of dreams, and that doesn’t mean that we cannot yearn for the unattainable or the socially unacceptable.  Movies like this have an endearing place in our culture because even if it’s just in bits and spurts, they remind us of that innermost desire to have it all away from it all.  And particularly when those rushing images are set to MGMT’s “The Youth,” Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “The Kings of Summer” clears the pathway and reaches the kid trapped inside of all of us.  B+3stars

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