“But where’s Biaggio?”
I was fifteen years old and hopelessly infatuated with everyone’s white boy of the year, Nick Robinson, when it happened. Much like the collective pre-film Twitter, I thought he looked kind and had pretty eyes so naturally, I figured I would delve into his filmography. Littered with TV spot cameos and questionable D-coms, I was not exactly thriving as a moviegoer but persisted nonetheless. That’s when I came across Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ The Kings of Summer. Based on synopsis alone, I thought that there was no way that I was this film’s target audience; straight white guys running away from home to live in the woods was an engaging premise but just did not feel applicable to my own adolescent qualms. Five years and a dozen re-watches later, The Kings of Summer still stands valiantly as my favourite coming of age movie ever.
In addition to Nick Robinson playing the traditionally cute but painstakingly sarcastic protagonist, he offers up a seamlessly vulnerable performance as Joe Toy, a disaffected teen coping with the death of his mother and the generally impassive nature of his father, Frank (played to a T by Nick Offerman). While Frank appears emotionally vacant through Joe’s eyes, as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that his stoic demeanor and dry wit are his own means of coping with his loss.
Meanwhile, Joe’s best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), is somehow developing hives from his parents’ overbearing nature. The two friends are entirely disaffiliated from their suburban surroundings, yearning for a change that they can’t put a name to. That’s when Joe gets an idea that is equal parts absurd and plausible: they’re going to run away and live in the woods. Unwittingly accompanied by the strange Biaggio (an uproarious Moises Arias), the two build a house deep in the forest where neither their families nor the police can find them. And this is just the beginning.
While others have their fun tipsy party tricks, mine is just yelling about how criminally underrated The Kings of Summer is. The dialogue, the cinematography, the score. Beautiful. The cast, the soundtrack, the relationships. Unmatched. But above all else, the film is wholly malleable. It’s whatever you need it to be in the moment – when you’re angry, it’s a story about teenage rebellion, when you’re happy, it’s a tale of adventure and unflinching youthful abandon, and when you’re sad, it’s a genuine escape. The kind that offers up a warm embrace and sheer hilarity in exchange for your attention.
Joe and Patrick’s relationship might just be one of my favourite pairings in recent film history. There is a wholesome tenacity to the world that they share and the home that they build together. And spewing some of my favourite one-liners of all time, Biaggio and his eccentricities immediately bring out the best in his newfound friends. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is able to explore the platonic and yet loving bond between young men while simultaneously not shying away from addressing their toxic masculinity – from judgmental exchanges about hunter-gatherer culture to resorting to blows over a girl. It’s an inherently “masculine” story but it is able to harness universal themes like the youthful desire to be strong, independent, and self-sufficient. On its surface, the film isn’t designed to cater to me but somehow, miraculously, it does better than any other coming of age film has.
In the case of Joe, Patrick, and Biaggio, I felt represented emotionally. How? I’m still not entirely sure myself. Even internally, I feel nothing like these characters. But the film’s permeable warmth is enough to envelop me in their world where I am allowed to move as freely and openly as they are. I laugh at their jokes, hum to their songs, and cry during their fights. There is a familiarity to these three that makes The Kings of Summer effortless to revisit. From unhinged Monopoly games to secretively reverting to take-out dining, this movie is a riot. Amidst this hilarity, Vogt-Roberts peppers in moments of stark reality, thus creating a work that is just as self-aware as it is enchanting.
The desire for an escape is more prevalent now than it was at the time of the film’s original release back in 2013. Upon revisiting this during rocky times, I am thankful for all that The Kings of Summer awards me. Unfortunately, this is the type of film that can fly right over your radar unappreciated for all that it is. Seek it out and you’ll be met with endless amounts of love and care for both your rainiest and sunniest days.
by Saffron Maeve
Saffron Maeve (she/her) is a Toronto-based film writer studying English and Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. She habitually cries to film scores and aspires to one day make it into the Criterion Closet. Her favourite films include The Goonies, Bringing Up Baby, The Kid, and After Hours. You can find her on Twitter (@saffronmaeve).
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