The adolescent coming-of age story just keeps on coming in film after film, not to mention novel after novel, and while not bad specifically, “The Kings of Summer” brings little that is terribly memorable to this already full table. Fortunately, Nick Offerman, the gruff, hilarious alpha-male from television’s “Parks and Recreation” is on hand to be gruff and hilarious as an overbearing father to the main young man, Joe, who is the ringleader of a trio of teenaged boys who decide to run away from home.
The film begins by exploring the irritating home lives of the boys, and is assured enough of this point. Joe doesn’t get along with his dad, who is just trying to start dating after the death of his wife, Joe’s mother. Not a lot is explained there, but that’s OK. Joe’s lifelong best friend Patrick has the opposite problem, smothering, passive-aggressive attention from his dweeby helicopter parents. The role of his mom is ably addressed by Offerman’s real-life wife Megan Mullally. Still, no one was exactly stretching their acting muscles. Everyone did a nice job, but no one was outstanding.
The brooding Joe, tired of his father’s demands which — and maybe this is just a parent talking here — weren’t particularly offensive, hatches a plan to build a house in a clearing in the woods, and invites Patrick to come along. Patrick is the less adventurous of the boys, but after a morning of maternal nagging, he agrees.
They are joined by a strange and diminutive classmate named Biaggio, who functions well, if rather blatantly, as comic relief. His ill-fitting clothes, awkward demeanor, and continuous non-sequiturs are indeed often amusing. His contribution to what effect the film did deliver cannot be overstated; he made the film.
Despite limited construction skills, the boys throw together a serviceable shack, and embark on a repetitive series of idyllic montages. They jump off a low cliff into a stream over and over and over. They stalk about in the woods having fun and being boyish. This dream of independence is the central concept of the movie. And as we rehash their escapades over and over, we realize that it’s the only concept of the movie. And it wasn’t quite enough.
As the film meanders on, the stakes are never raised. The boys argue and cracks appear in their blissful boys club. The families missed their kids, but I was basically just frustrated that no one was looking in the nearby woods for God’s sake. Eventually, it became sort of ludicrous they hadn’t been found.
One of the best scenes was between the fathers of the two missing boys, fishing and touching on their shared pasts. Briefly, a deeper history is indicated. This film needed about 10 more scenes as well-written as that one.
Basically, this film demonstrates how hard it is to make a truly good and interesting movie, and when you watch a well-made film that seems not to have much going on, but is moving anyway, there is actually a great deal going on. Unfortunately, “The Kings of Summer” demonstrates the reverse of this principle in its failings. It’s a simple story that fails to transcend meaningfully. Like so many so-so movies, this was a good concept, but nothing more. When you get to the point where you wonder what happens next, the answer is, nothing much.