Indie dramedy “The Kings of Summer” is a glimpse into the lives of three dissatisfied teens and their quest for manhood and independence. Joe, played by Nick Robinson, and Patrick, played by Gabe Basso have been best friends since childhood, but find themselves fed-up with life at home. Since the death of his mom, family life hasn’t been the same for Joe as he continually butts heads with his hostile and sardonic father, Frank (Nick Offerman). Conversely, Patrick’s parents (Marc Even Jackson, Megan Mullally) are the definition of “smothering” and coddle him like a baby. Pushed to the brink, the friends run away to start a new life in the woods, accompanied by their socially awkward peer, Biaggio (Moises Arias).
What follows is a montage of house building, nature frolicking, and bro bonding as the trio try to live off the land like “real men.” Tensions arise when Joe invites his crush, Kelley (Erin Moriarty), into their secluded world, upsetting the boys’ harmony when she falls for Patrick instead. When Joe lashes out with a temper that would match his father’s, the delicate foundation upon which they have built their new life comes crashing down — along with a portion of their house. Ultimately, the boys struggle to come to terms with the definition of manhood and what it means to be family.
“Kings,” similar to teen classics like “Napoleon Dynamite,” is much more a snapshot of adolescent life than a coherent story. The film is, in many ways, anticlimactic and dabbles in many different themes, hinting at meaning but never digging deeper. The content itself is a mishmash of seemingly random scenes that flow somewhat awkwardly. Viewers are left with countless loose ends and an invalidated resolution that might leave some wondering, “Is that it?” But what “Kings” lacks in clarity, it more than compensates for with its dynamic characters, beautiful cinematography, and authentic illustration of summer spent with friends that can’t help but evoke nostalgia.
What makes “Kings” worthwhile is its quirkiness and distinctly teenage perspective. It’s all there: the best friend, the insufferable parents, the unrequited love, the intense desire for adulthood, and even the loveably weird kid who won’t take a hint. The film finds a delicate balance between the predictability of any coming-of-age story and the thrill of the uncertainty of the character’s upcoming actions, making the story relatable and engaging.
Growing up is universal, but those moments that shape who you become are still thrillingly special when you are the only one experiencing them. “Kings” flawlessly conveys the excitement of this special time with a triumphant tone of independence that is all too familiar to anyone who’s been a young adolescent and found confirmation in the power of friendship.
Rudd is a member of the class of 2017.