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Kings of Summer is No Moonrise Kingdom

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2013 5 May
  • COMMENTS
<i>Kings of Summer</i> is No <i>Moonrise Kingdom</i>

DVD Release Date: September 24, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: May 31, 2013 (limited release)
Rating: R (language and some teen drinking)
Genre: Comedy
Run Time: 93 min.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Erin Moriaty, Craig Cacowski, Megan Mullally

As evidenced by the likes of The Goonies, Stand By Me and practically any John Hughes movie, a great coming-of-age story can truly stand the test of time.

And given the mass appeal of last summer’s Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s winning, witty ode to two teenage misfits who retreated to the woods, it’s no surprise that a burgeoning filmmaker would attempt to recreate (or at least borrow from) what’s worked so well before.

Trouble is, The Kings of Summer never quite finds its footing—emotionally, comedically or otherwise. As with Moonrise Kingdom, we’re introduced to a young man who clearly isn’t happy at home. After his mother’s death, Joe (Nick Robinson, TV’s Melissa & Joey) is stuck with a perpetually cranky father (Nick Offerman, who’s basically reprising his character from Parks & Recreation) who even ruins his son’s chances with his big crush, Kelly (Erin Moriarty, TV’s Red Widow). Given the prickly father-son dynamic, it’s clear that Joe wants to escape, but unfortunately, the audience is never given a compelling reason to fully invest in his quest for independence.

For whatever reason, the screenwriters failed to give Joe many likeable qualities. He's rude, disrespectful, selfish and downright bratty to the point of stealing from his own father. It’s bewildering how Joe has any friends at all. But even though he's not part of the popular crowd, the newly minted sophomore isn’t alone. Thanks to his childhood friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso from cable’s The Big C), someone always has Joe’s back.

Like Joe, Patrick has parents who are pretty clueless, and embarrassingly out of touch with their only teenage son. Their idea of doing something crazy is buying a rustic ciabatta loaf instead of their usual bread. With Patrick’s summer prospects already looking pretty uneventful, he’s more than game for an adventure.

Of course, Joe’s idea of summer fun is a little extreme. After deciding he couldn’t possibly live with his father one more day, Joe suggests that he and Patrick leave their respective homes, build a makeshift dwelling in the woods and live off the land like men.

Despite some serious reservations (at one point, he even asks God for a "good omen"), Patrick goes along with the plan. But how will a couple of novices and a weird, last-minute tag-along named Biaggio (Moises Arias, The Secret World of Arrietty) survive in the Great Outdoors? Well, Joe has read a few books on that very subject, naturally.

While the filmmakers were intent on infusing the movie with heavy-handed symbolism on the journey from boyhood to becoming a full-fledged man, The Kings of Summer is simply too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Not only are the leaps of logic in storytelling too numerous to mention here, but the mostly plotless affair (think Napoleon Dynamite minus the oddball charm) lacks any significant stakes.

After all, when the boys' parents don't seem all that concerned about their missing sons, why should anyone else care either?

With a plot haphazardly hammered together like a house with no clear architectural plans, what also severely undermines The Kings of Summer is a generally misguided sense of what’s funny. When over-the-top physical gags fall flat (and how!), the writers resort to laughs of the lowest common denominator that reinforce tasteless racial stereotypes.

Really, the best thing that can be said for The Kings of Summer is that it didn’t drag on and on. But as the heir to Moonrise Kingdom’s throne? Trust me, it’s more a cheap knock-off than the genuine article.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity: God’s name is misused or paired with da-- on multiple occasions. The f-word is used a handful of times, along with a--, sh--, dam- and he--. Humor, particularly of the racially charged variety, that’s in bad taste.
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing and teen flirtation. Several crude references to male anatomy. Joe’s dad makes a crack about masturbation. Teen girls wear revealing clothing, and we see Joe and his pals in the underwear in a couple of scenes, too.
  • Drugs/Alcohol: There are several scenes that involve underage drinking, both at parties and during the boys' adventure in the woods.
  • Violence: Joe stabs a rabbit, and we see him butcher it (if you’re squeamish about blood and guts, you’ll want to avert your eyes—it’s graphic). Some teenage fighting over a girl results in a few punches. Joe hurts Patrick’s already-injured leg. Biaggio is bitten by a snake.

Christa Banister is an author and full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the MeddlersBased in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.

Publication date: May 31, 2013