I would like to spend a summer -- maybe even part of this one -- with Joe, Patrick and Biaggio, the angsty protagonists of The Kings of Summer who steal away from their parents and in to a secluded part of a forest adjacent to their Ohio suburb to build their own upscale version of the He Man Woman Hater's Clubhouse.
I can't dance like Biaggio (Moises Arias), nor do I possess the unbridled determination of Joe (Nick Robinson), but I'm sure I could wield a kitana and bang on a drainage pipe just well enough to fit in. Fitting in is what this film is all about. Like so many mostly average 15-year-old boys, this trio feels out of place at home and at school.
Joe's father Frank (Nick Offerman) is needlessly strict and mostly humorless. His crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) unwittingly torments him like only 15-year-old girls can with lovestruck 15-year-old boys, leaning on him for friendship and emotional support as she dates a rotating cast of questionable characters. Patrick's (Gabriel Basso) parents -- played by Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson -- are harmlessly but gratingly weird, his dad compulsively checking for missing studs in the wall of his basement, while his mom confuses Will Smith with the "New Prince" and comments on his eating habits over the dinner table. The slightly built Biaggio, meanwhile, has a weird name and says even weirder things, which makes him as surefire a high school outcast as you might imagine.
Though their challenges and frustrations are different at home, you can see where the common bond would develop and why they would decide to hide away in the woods for a few weeks fitting in only with each other, even if (or perhaps because) it causes their parents a great deal of worry.
Their adventures and misadventures, especially frequent trips to Boston Market to keep themselves fed, go from comedic to more serious only when Kelly is brought in to the fold, not as a tenant but rather as a frequent guest. When Joe becomes aware of a burgeoning romance between his houseguest and his best friend, their manchild fellowship begins to disintegrate, frayed by Joe's extreme jealousy.
Your heart breaks for all three sides of this love triangle because, well, who hasn't been there. If your adolescence was similar to Joe's, and mine was, the confusion between friendship with and unrequited love for the same woman was a near constant. On the other hand, what are his best friend and the object of his affection supposed to do -- call it quits just because Joe can't quite deal with them being together like an adult?
The Kings of Summer is raucously hilarious -- kudos especially to Arias and the parents on that front -- and it is an outstanding snapshot of what it's like to be a relatively average 15-year-old kid in suburban America. Deep down, though, it's not so much a coming-of-age story as it is a coming-to-terms-with-coming-of-age story. As the film concludes, Joe still has to figure out how to be friends with Patrick after what he sees as a betrayal. His father has begun to see him as a young man, but there's still work to be done there as well.
There's still a lot of growing up for these characters to do once the summer turns in to fall, and there's plenty of reason to think their personal development will continue. They all have good hearts. Fifteen years old or 50, there's probably a lesson in there for all of us.