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Review: The Kids Are All Right in 'The Kings of Summer,' A Sappy Coming-of-Age Romantic Comedy

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! May 31, 2013 at 1:01PM

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."
'The Kings of Summer'
'The Kings of Summer'

With witty comic turns by Offerman (casually unflappable as always), a scene-stealing Megan Mullally as Patrick's frantic, racist helicopter mom ("The Irish are the blacks of Europe, period!") and the lovely Alison Brie as Joe's big sister, the film pleasantly breezes by as it contrasts the suburbs with the kid kings' makeshift subterranean world. Through well-meaning, albeit rosy-colored lenses, the screenplay by Chris Galletta effusively recreates that tenuous period between the school years, when the sun of innocence starts to set. But the script gets caught in some clunky narrative machinery as it tries to wrap up a pretty, sappy package.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an unexpectedly cinematic director and stylist, shooting on digital stock with a grainy, celluloid-like quality that almost makes you question the medium. But the film can't quite overcome the murky plague of dark natural lighting. Visual splendor abounds in the film's outdoor sequences, with lyrical editing and pictorial wide shots of nature that capture the boundless, romantic freedom of youth, where the kids carouse out from under the stuffy noses of their alienating parents. For better and for worse, "Kings" -- always on the verge of breaking into montage -- resembles one of those ethereal "Go Forth" commercials for Levi's that aim for sublimity but end up looking like the poor man's Terrence Malick.

Few films in the Teenage Summer of Love category have succeeded in grounding the stock tropes of this genre in any kind of reality (the winsome, gentle "Adventureland" pulled this off). Though no exception, "The Kings of Summer" valiantly attempts to depict awkward teenage times with at least a decent amount of respect for what it's like to be 16 years old. But this movie's true success happens offscreen when it awakens our own nostalgia for the days of being young and wily and pimply. And in such jaded times, perhaps we ought to give more warm a welcome to a film like this, however too good its intentions may be.

This article is related to: The Kings of Summer, Reviews

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.