There is no shortage of coming-of-age movies, and they’ve been around at least since Mickey Rooney’s voice changed (to the degree it ever did). There are good ones and bad ones, but the basic appeal seems firmly entrenched in the fabric of movies — at least where guys are concerned. The females of our species seem largely overlooked by this sub-genre. (That’s worth looking into, but not here.) With The Kings of Summer, first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and first-time writer Chris Galletta have crafted a sometimes remarkable, sometimes faltering, always watchable example of the form. Technically, the film is what I would call mid-grade, film-festival entry, which is to say that it has the kind of rough edges you expect — even maybe a tinge of handmade amateurishness — but that’s fitting for this scruffy little movie. Don’t get me wrong, this is about 1,000 miles away from, say, Mud, and though it has an apparent case of Moonrise Kingdom-envy that it can’t satisfy, there’s still something here.
This is a movie that should resonate with anyone whoever wandered around the woods in summer and dreamed of getting away from his or her parents. Mostly, it will strike its deepest chord with those of us who built “forts” in the woods. Here we have Joe (Nick Robinson), who is fed up with his father (Nick Offerman) — a man who complains about everything and controls everything. When Nick gets lost on his way from a party he wasn’t supposed to go to, he discovers what he thinks would be a great place to build a house of his own. He enlists Patrick (Gabriel Brasso) in the project, while a very strange third party, Biaggio (Moises Arias), more or less enlists himself. (Nick is hesitant to ditch this kid — who claims to be gender neutral — because he doesn’t know what he might be “capable of.”) Using scraps — and maybe some stolen items — from construction sites, the three put together what is essentially the best “fort” anyone ever built. (Truth to tell, it doesn’t look much different than a house I rented for a couple years in Reems Creek, though it may be better built.)
Up to this point, the film has done a great job of capturing both a boyhood fantasy and a timeless sense of summer in the woods. (Take away the cellphones and Boston Market and the picture could be set in the 1960s.) It’s good enough, in fact, that you’ll probably be inclined to just overlook the improbable notion that the cops can’t find these kids. Then, somebody must have remembered that the film needed more plot. This is supplied via a falling out over a girl (Erin Moriarty), which is OK but not great. Even less great is a turn toward melodrama that comes in its wake. (And I could have done without a rabbit-hunting scene altogether.) It remains entertaining and redeems itself by the end, but it’s hard to deny that the first two-thirds of the movie felt rather special, while the last third less so. Still, it has its charms, the kids are appealing and it’s worth catching. Rated R for language and some teen drinking.
Starts Friday at Carolina Cinemas