A beautifully-crafted ode to long adolescent summers when school’s out, this American comedy arrives as a perfect riposte to Michael Gove’s killjoy policy of axing six-week breaks in England. It concerns best friends Joe (Robinson), Patrick (Basso) and oddball Biaggio (Arias) who, frustrated by their parents’ attempts to manage their lives, escape to the woods to build something of their own.
It could be to the film’s detriment that it arrives so soon after Matthew McConaughey’s excellent Mud, which was ostensibly a similar tale of boys becoming men in the outback amid the fear of snakes and women, but they actually work as wonderful companion pieces. Both are beautifully shot, with the searing heat and rawness of nature depicted with intense slow-motion and dazzling range, but what marks out Kings of Summer is its replacement of Mud’s folksy wisdom with a genuinely hilarious screenplay.
The zingers come thick, fast and from likeable leads. Joe and Patrick banter like South Park’s offspring. Meanwhile, tiny Biaggio, wearing a dress and wielding a machete, could be just another freakish kid you’ve seen a thousand times over, but his speeches – mistaking the symptoms of cystic fibrosis for the feeling he’s gay, for example – are touchingly hysterical.
Stealing the show though is Joe’s dad Frank (Offerman). You get the impression he was probably an arsehole before his wife died, but that loss pushed him into a semi-permanent fit of pique. From his daughter’s earnest boyfriend to local cops, nobody is spared Frank’s sardonic putdowns. After Joe summons the police to his house via a prank call, a young recruit straight out of the academy asks Frank if he has “heard the story about the boy who cried wolf?” “Since I had a childhood on planet Earth, yes I have” Frank replies, deadpan.
Despite its carefully arched eyebrow, the film is never nasty. It has a generous spirit, with warm and witty things to say about the follies of youth and experience. In terms of plot, there isn’t a huge amount here: they build a makeshift house, they briefly live the high-life and they fail to catch many animals to eat. Then a girl enters their lives and the previously rock-solid friendship inevitably wobbles. Despite this fact, and the boy’s own adventure setup, Kings of Summer isn’t sexist. Rather, it employs a deliberately slanted male view of the world; it actually has far more to say about the ludicrousness of male interactions generally.
The substance of the film resides in its script, the relationships it develops, and the sense of nostalgic longing it will instil in so many. It makes you want to pack in city life, head for the hills, build a den and live there.
EXTRAS ★★ Just a behind-the-scenes featurette (20:01).