The Kings of Summer – Jordan Vogt Roberts - Three teenagers build an improvised den in the woods, vowing to live off the land in an adolescent arcadia, escaping their various home lives and family situations in favour of a simple, honest and at-one-with-nature joy. A summer of independence and self-sufficient living. The camera observes the awe-inspiring American forest and landscape with a style between Attenborough-style nature documentaries and Malick-style ‘magic hour’ golden light and camera flare. Making it all very easy on the eyes, added to which the director has a fondness for occasionally overused slow motion montages.
However, this is not simply a pleasing spectacle of sunlight and leaves – the tone is intelligently comic, with witty dialogue (a terrific array of sardonic infuriation and misery is spouted by the protagonist’s Dad, played by Nick Offerman) and a hilariously bizarre stroke of genius in the character of Biaggio (played by Moises Arias) – a very short, Indian boy who joins the two friends without much reason or explanation but provides continual oddities of conversational gold. At one point, striding through a river and wielding a stick or found sword, the lead boy, Joe (played by Nick Robinson) turns to Biaggio and utters something like: ‘However you ever felt so alive, so wild, so (* brandishes stick/sword *) so Manly??’ To which Biaggio calmly replies ‘I like to think of myself without gender…is that a problem?’ There is a short pause, following this unexpected assertion. Joe then replies ‘It’s not great.’ On another moment Biaggio confides in Joe, after a girl pays him attention: ‘Im gay.’ Joe replies, ‘really?’ Biaggio, matter of factly continues, ‘yes, my lungs fill up with fluid every time the season changes’ to which a bewildered Joe responds, ‘that’s cystic fibrosis…’ After which Biaggio changes the conversation and decides he might in fact like the girl, leaving Joe muttering about how ‘cystic fibrosis’ is not a casual thing, it’s serious shit. There is a blank faced absurdity to all of Biaggio’s random comments that makes him consistently and beautifully comic.
In addition to looking great, escaping suburban banality in the natural grandeur of the forest, being surprisingly witty and entertaining, it also imaginatively portrays ‘coming of age’ euphoria. The film celebrates the bonding of friends and explores inevitable tensions of change, it conjures the lust, excitement and disappointments of infatuation, the timeless chapters of possibility that ‘summer’ can encapsulate at that age, and – in the figure of Joe’s father, the difficulties of re-building life after the end of a marriage. This is a brilliantly made, fun and imaginative jostling of characters all resisting, anticipating and coming to understand what exactly in life is changing – and maybe what has to change. 8/10