Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

09 October 2013

Toy's House

Honestly, I can't recommend The Kings of Summer enough. I found this first film (directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts) to be a mix between two other movies that I liked very much this year – The Spectacular Now and Mud. I guess that means I am spending a lot of time recommending movies about adolescent boys who struggle with their adolescent lives and try to make sense of the world. The Kings of Summer is about a high-school age kid who is not getting along with his father and so (with his two friends) decides to move into the woods for the summer and live "like men".

In other words, even the kid at this movie's center understand that he is in a coming-of-age narrative. He is trying, actively, to become a grown-up and he knows it. That this bildungsroman theme is self-consciously obvious makes the whole thing even more enjoyable, and The Kings of Summer manages both an ironic and an empathetic perspective (a bit like D.O. Russell's gaze in last year's terribly titled but eminently likable Silver Linings Playbook). We almost never understand the main character Kings to be making the right decision – he makes childish decision after childish decision – but he is a confused, frustrated kid who I couldn't help but love anyway.

Unlike Spectacular Now and Mud, The Kings of Summer is a very funny comedy, with occasionally broad performances by comedians Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Kumail Nanjiani. Kings straddles this sit-comic approach to the suburban scenes with a Malickian approach to all of the scenes in the forest. The woods look gorgeous: the boys look out at the sunset, and play in the lake, and walk in open meadows, and it really feels like they are outside of the absurd world of suburbia that their parents inhabit. But these are two entirely different filmmaking styles, and if they don't actually belong together, their juxtaposition works very well, so that it made me appreciate the boys' forest retreat all the more. The dream of "getting out into nature" makes much more sense when it is clear how absolutely nonsensical life is in suburbia.

Toy's House (this film's former title)
I read a review of the film that called Vogt-Roberts' first feature "slight", and I can understand why someone would critique it this way. If I compare Kings to Mud and Spectacular Now, I have to say that the acting in the other two films is much better in them than in Kings; thematically, the other two films are more interesting, as well; I can even say that I was much more emotionally invested in the other two.

But I liked Kings better. It is a self-aware film that captures something of the absurdity of adolescence and the impossibility of certain modes of existence. Vogt-Roberts casts a withering gaze at masculinity, and, by way of derision, he mocks the idea that traditional masculinity is the proper telos for adolescence. This is is a very funny film, and if it doesn't quite do realism and honesty as well as The Spectacular Now or suspense as well as Mud, The Kings of Summer has an exquisite and hilarious charm all its own.

P.S. I really do feel strange about liking so many movies that center around male adolescence this year. I wonder what's come over me! Feeling nostalgia over my youth, I suppose.