Consider that the primary father figure is the droll
A vicious game of
Suffice it to say Monopoly brings out the worst in everyone, especially Offerman's Frank Toy, father of 15-year-old Joe (Robinson). Even without the Park Place tension, the death of the Toy family's wife and mother a few years back hangs over the house. Father and son are dealing with it badly, particularly since Frank matches his teenager's resistance to household rules with a sarcastic bite that is worse than his bark.
To flee the trials at home, primarily Frank's ill humor, Joe decides to run away and live in the nearby woods with all the bravado of Peter Pan — and none of the survival skills.
Equally up for escape is best friend Patrick (Basso), who is being smothered to death by overprotective parents (
Though much effort will be expended turning scrap wood into their dream house (the film was once called "Toy's House"), the boys' real task is to learn that being masters of your fate isn't as easy as it seems, and even a bucolic forest isn't a safe haven.
The filmmakers are a bit like their boys of summer, plowing into new terrain in promising ways but rough around the edges.
In making their feature debut, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and screenwriter Chris Galletta do a good bit of bobbing and weaving around problems. Both have comedy roots: Vogt-Roberts is the mind behind
And the filmmakers do understand the language of teenage boys — an argument ended by flipping each other off followed by a smirk.
As is necessary in stories like these, there is a first love. Joe's high school crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) has a jock-jerk for a boyfriend. When she shows up at the kings retreat with friends and beer, life gets complicated and loyalties are tested.
All the kids are seasoned actors, which serves the movie well. Basso, best known as
The film was shot in a place called Chagrin Falls — the irony coincidental — a Cleveland suburb where community and woodlands meet. The story is set in the modern day, but the summer in the woods seems carved out of a simpler time. There are streams to fish, lakes to swim in, trees to climb. But life on the lam is defined by the house that the boys build.
It is the film's central metaphor as well. Technically made from found material, it has enough structural charm — there's a loft, for heaven's sake — the boys would have a future in construction if they weren't already college-bound. Nifty-looking but completely implausible.
The reaction to their running away is even more never-never land. There are no histrionics, no massive manhunts.
At some point, the story of the missing boys makes the local news and the film starts unraveling fast as fable and reality collide in messy ways. But for a brief moment the kings have their day in the sun.
'The Kings of Summer'
MPAA rating: R for language and some teen drinking
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: At ArcLight Hollywood; Landmark, West Los Angeles