“The Kings of Summer” movie review

KOS-PosterA unique coming-of-age story in the vein of Stand By Me. However, unlike the more conventional coming of age stories, the subtext and themes of then first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film, written by Chris Valletta, are merely touched upon but seldom followed through in any meaningful way. The deadpan comedy and one-liners are simply tossed around instead of providing deeper meaning or introspect that may have increased the emotions felt throughout the movie. It’s a very surface level movie that fails to substantially deliver the dynamic quality narrative that is typically expected of these films. That isn’t to say that it is without merit; quite the contrary, it is enjoyable and is successful in taking you back to that time when you felt that no one understood you and you wanted to be treated like an adult, but still clung to the reckless freedom of hormonal youth. Understanding the consequences of one’s behavior is a regularly visited theme in the movie. With gorgeous outdoor cinematography and relatable characters, The Kings of Summer contains a little something for everyone who has ever thought of running away and building a cabin in the woods for you and your buds.

The Kings of Summer is about three teenagers Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias) who run away from their respective dysfunctional families and make a life for themselves out in the woods by building a house and living off the land. Ever since Joe’s mother died, he just does not get along with his father Frank (Parks and Rec‘s Nick Offerman). In turn, his father has anger and resentment issues he too is working through with the untimely passing of his wife. Unfortunately, Frank takes out his anger on Joe and both have nearly become alienated from one another. Making valid points about Joe’s behavior but not delivering those points with understanding, Frank and Joe just do not get along. With Patrick also not getting along with his helicopter parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Even Jackson), Joe convinces him to join with their new friend Biaggio and rule their own lives and answer to no one except each other. Forming a friendship pact, the three seem inseparable. However, even this three-fold cord has struggles and disagreements, jealously and rage. The young men are forced to work through life’s problems while dealing with the chemical and psychological changes of growing up.

Have you ever just wanted to escape life? Just quit and run away to a tropical island or mountain valley? That is just what you will encounter in The Kings of Summer. Coming-of-age stories are usually some of the films that find their way onto favorite lists or those to which so many people can relate because they deal with issues many of us face while in that transitional time from teenager to adult. From lakeside high school parties to hormones and independence, this film includes some of the various turning points and learning opportunities one likely encounters while discovering who he or she is. Ordinarily, films such as this, deliver the content in such a way that it offers deeper meaning or emotional connections in the narrative. And although there are some themes and moderate introspect, the film does not go far enough in connecting the audience with the teenagers or adults in the movie. There were several lines of dialog that alluded to potential conflicts and personal struggles that could have been revisited to offer more substance in the film. That being said, the writer and director do provide relatable characters who are each very different from the other in an effort to provide audiences with a character to whom they can identify. It is important for coming-of-age movies to not only contain relatable characters but relatable situations as well. And this movie does that, just not to the extent it had the capacity to do.

One of the interesting themes that can be read in The Kings of Summer is questioning one’s sexual orientation. Much like in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, in which the protagonist’s sexual orientation is questionable, you can find similar themes in this film. Throughout the movie, Joe is regularly making speeches on and offering up pithy comments about masculinity. Quite regularly, Joe lectures Patrick and Biaggio about what it means to me a man. At times, Joe even becomes defensive when his masculine ways are questioned. As Shakespeare penned, “…thou doth protest too loudly…” It is entirely possible that Joe is struggling to come to terms with his sexual preferences. This could explain why he would go to such drastic measures to escape his rigid father in order to discover who he is when he has to provide for himself. Other supporting evidence of this theme is simply the fact that he doesn’t get the girl even though he tried much more than Patrick. When Patrick winds up with the girl, Joe is outraged and never quite gets over it. There are also the frequent trips to Boston Market instead of truly “being a man” and hunting for food. Maybe he’s simply trying too hard to deny who he is developing to be? Perhaps. But, there are additionally also other themes that can be read in this unique coming-of-age story.

Although this film did not receive the national attention in 2013 that it really should have, it is definitely one that is worth a watch if you enjoy this sub-genre of Drama. Ordinarily, ensemble casts can hinder effective character development and excellent storytelling, but the cast in this film is handled moderately well. If there had been more focus on the personal struggles or if the film included an external goal, then it would have definitely been better and perhaps more popular. Stories in general–especially visual stories–require the principle characters to not only have internal goals, but a clearly defined external goal as well. Often the external goal can echo the internal one, but it is important to show a tangible goal. Unfortunately, the latter is lacking in the diegesis of The Kings of Summer. This movie won’t likely ever have the nostalgia or cache of Stand By Me, but it does offer up a fun story with an excellent cast and some personal growth that will keep you entertained for the hour and a half runtime.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Paper Towns” movie review

PaperTownsPretends to be more serious and deep than it actually is. Paper Towns is the latest movie based on a novel by best-selling author John Green who brought us last year’s The Fault in Our Stars. However, before you get too excited and begin to develop expectations of this current movie, this film falls short of the emotional roller coaster and deep introspective thoughts you may have had rushing through your head in last year’s movie. That being said, Paper Towns is very well acted and the coming-of-age story will likely keep you entertained; and may even evoke some nostalgic feeling of what it was like to be 18 and a senior in high school–or maybe the way you would like high school to have gone for you. With a solid cast and natural chemistry between friends and lovers, this film successfully brings the last month of high school alive for the audience. The cast feels like “real” people amongst a sea of the “paper” people often encountered in movies and even in real life.

Paper Towns is about the mysterious disappearance of Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne), the “it” girl, from a local high school in Orlando, Florida. Her cute-nerdy neighbor across the street Quentin (Nat Wolf) has been in love with her for over nine years–ever since her family moved in across the street. After Margo comes to Quentin’s window late one evening, she takes him on the ride of his life as she pranks and punks some of her former friends and ex-boyfriend who have been keeping secrets from her. Ending the night with dancing in a high-rise in downtown Orlando, it looks as if Quentin may have his girl. Not so fast. The next morning, she turns up missing, and a string of seemingly random clues may lead Quentin to where he can find Margo. Teaming up with his two best friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith), Ben’s high school crush Lacy (Halston Sage) and Radar’s longterm girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), they pile into Quentin’s mom’s minivan to trek across the eastern seaboard in order to find Margo.

This is one of those movies that will remind you of past films in the same sub-genre or vein, if you will. Immediately following the close of the movie, I could not help but think of the many elements and plot points that reminded me of movies such as Stand By MeThe Fault in Our Stars (not surprisingly), The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Kings of Summer. What do all these movies have in common? They are all type-A coming-of-age stories featuring characters who are trying to find themselves or their place in this world, typically occurring in the high school years, an often the last months of high school. Narratively speaking, Paper Towns shares many of the same tropes; but it is certainly not a reboot, remake, or simply a rehash of what’s been done before. It stands alone as unique in its own way. Unlike the endings of the aforementioned movies, the one thing that truly sets this film a part from the others is the ending–it is quite unexpected and, as a whole, unfortunately poorly executed and leaves the audience slightly angry and mostly unsatisfied. Can’t tell you what that is because this IS a movie built upon the premise of a mystery.

The brightest element of this production is the excellent casting. Honestly, these young people feel like they could be your neighbor’s kids or perhaps your friends. They are earthy, crude, funny, horny, selfish, and devoted. What really helps the story in this movie is the believability of the actors’ emotions and dialog. The writing is very natural, well paced, and usually takes us to the emotional highs and lows we need in the story. Both in appearance and in personality, the casting choices couldn’t have been better. I enjoy movies that take you back to when you were 17-18 and finishing high school. It’s like, ‘yeah, I remember going through that same stuff, talking about sex and alcohol, and our futures.’ The topics or discussion and the manner in which the characters engaged one another felt extremely natural and un-rehearsed. And, the little bit of romance between some of the characters is cute and heartwarming.

I was defintiely disappointed that the movie was so very close to hitting the emotional mark it needed to, but then fell just shy of it. It kind of leaves you in that awkward place that you may have found yourself in on a date when things lead right up to an intimate encounter with your love interest, and just before you hit the home run, it ends or plateaus. Emotionally, that is precisely what this movie’s plot does for the audience. Furthermore, the whole “paper towns” concept is never fully explained. That could be consciously done, but cinematically, I feel the analogy or symbolism could have benefited from deeper exposition. The audience is really left to draw many of their own conclusions and infer what the author or screenwriters meant by this or that. You can make sense of it eventually, but it would have been helpful for the movie to have explained it a little more clearly.

If you enjoy the movies I have referenced in respect to Paper Towns, then you will most likely enjoy this film. Definitely not really a group movie–more like one of those that you see with a significant other or maybe even alone. Unlike other movies that deal with the pains and triumphs of growing up, this one will not likely cause you to think too deeply about oneself or one’s life situations. BUT, this one is a movie to watch for the great acting and the interpersonal relationships between friends and lovers.