The fine young summer romance -- that time in the short months between spring and fall when love gets idealized and love gets messy -- is an idea so entrenched in pop culture and particularly in film that we tend to forget to ask if such an impossible thing actually exists? It never existed for me, but then again I didn't go to summer camp or work at a theme park -- and I certainly didn't flee the parental tyranny of home for the lawless yonder of the woods as three teenage friends do in "The Kings of Summer."
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts from a screenplay by Chris Galletta, "Kings" is a sweet yet fleeting trifle of a film. It puts this specific brand of love on the highest of cinematic pedestals, featuring plenty of montage, scorching lens flares and young people mulling over absolutely nothing amid the gauzy wisp of wheat fields. With protagonists so devoid of the irony that makes angsty teens such a pleasure to watch, it is the film's earnestness that damns it in the end. But along the way, "Kings" proves occasionally funny and never less than entertaining, as escapist as the dreamy notions of bygone youth it portrays.
Joe (Nick Robinson) is a gawkish, gangly mess of a teenager with a few relatable problems: his father Frank (Nick Offerman of "Parks and Recreation") is a difficult dad to deal with, and the object of his affection, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), is impossibly out of reach from Joe's lowly position in the unforgiving caste system that is high school. And so he rebels. He convinces best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and class weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias, the McLovin surrogate in this take on the coming-of-age buddy comedy) for a summer of anarchy and living off the land.
Together they build an admirably inhabitable cabin from the scraps of a model home in the woods, but the trouble is that Joe and the gang didn't fly far from the coop. Their families start looking for them -- though curiously, they hardly panic -- and Joe and Biaggio start breaking the rules of forest-dwelling by hauling food from Boston Market back to their pastoral pied-à-terre. When Kelly shows up at their hideaway, effectively throwing the wrench of jealousy into the mix, Joe tries to pass the chickens off as wild game to impress her.