The Kings of Summer

I need to be more timely with my movie reviews!

“The Kings of Summer,” is a charming story about three boys coming of age. It makes for an interesting contrast with “We Are the Best!,” which I raved about last month. “The Kings of Summer” is a little more conventional. In fact it works in the great tradition of novels about American boys growing up that I wondered if it was adapted from a book. (It’s not.) The Kings of the movie are troublemaker Joe, his innocent friend Patrick, and almost-alien weirdo Biaggio. Joe and Patrick are fed up with their home lives and Biaggio seems like he could’ve hatched from an egg, so during summer vacation they build a house in a clearing in the woods. They disappear without a word to their families and friends and drop off the grid. It’s a heartless thing to do, but you can empathize with their (minor, teenage) grievances and the movie is carried along with their spirit and their friendship.

And even though the movie makes it clear that Joe’s widowed father (Nick Offerman) is heartbroken and that Patrick’s parents (Megan Mullally and Will Forte) are saddened and confused, the stakes are pretty light – maybe too light. The movie provides a parade of comedian cameos from Kumail Nanjiani, Tony Hale, Hannibal Buress, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch. Rajskub and Middleditch are cops, and why isn’t that a TV show?

Once the story is set up, you can guess how it plays out: Joe and Patrick have a falling out over a girl, Joe proves to his father that he’s a man, the adventure in the woods ends, and their friendship will survive. But the movie stumbles coming into the home stretch. After Joe learns the girl he likes is more interested in Patrick, he is a huge jerk to both of them and the movie doesn’t acknowledge it. Joe gets to be heroic and he and Patrick make their peace, but nobody points out that Joe’s been a possessive creep and mistreated two more people who care about him. That wouldn’t stick out so much if the boys were more complex characters, but it casts a pall over the ending.

Despite that wrong note, “The Kings of Summer” is a fun, diverting movie, and for a while it’s a good and complex look at friendship between two boys on the precipice of adulthood. And the cast is great. I’d never seen Offerman play someone other than Ron Swanson, and here he gets to play a wounded, unpleasant flesh-and-blood human being. And yet I like him so much that I felt more sympathy for him than I was probably supposed to. Such are the pitfalls of being playing such a great character.

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