A marvelous coming-of-age comedy with fairytale-like absurdism is sneaking into theaters this weekend that should not be missed. While it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival this year under the title of “Toy’s House,” it unfortunately enters the market with a pretty low profile as it sets out on a counter-programming mission against the summer tentpoles.
The film is now called “The Kings of Summer” and while it may recall Rob Reiner’s fondly remembered “Stand By Me,” it’s really quite different from that film. The writer and director, both newcomers, adopt a much more playful, even fantastical take on male teen angst.
These would be Chris Galletta, a former intern at “The Late Show with David Letterman,” and Jordan Vogt-Roberts, creator and director of Comedy Central’s “Mash Up.” Their styles mesh uncommonly well to create a movie that should keep a giddy smile on your face through the entire running time.
What it does supremely well though is offer up a colorful and often eccentric set of character, both adults and youngsters, within a boys’ fantasy of life-as-it-should-be-but-never-is.
Let’s start with the boys. Lanky and thin, Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is being driven crazy by his widowed dad Frank (“Parks & Recreation’s” Nick Offerman, in a delightful turn). The father has obviously forgotten what it’s like to be an anxious teen. Frank does every awful thing a parent could seemingly do without any recognition of his stupidity until it’s too late.
Exasperated to the breaking point, Joe recruits his muscular pal Patrick (Gabriel Basso) into a scheme to run away for the summer and build a house in the woods where the two will live off the land.
Neither has a clue how that would work so thank goodness for the Boston Market nearby.
Patrick only agrees because his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) make Frank look like a dream. They are inventions of course — no parent could be this clueless, always emphasizing the wrong thing and delivering reprimands that wouldn’t pass muster on “Leave It to Beaver.”
What neither boy has counted on is a third amigo no one invited. This would be a sexually ambivalent, non sequitur-spouting, strange (to put it mildly) and short fellow named Biaggio played with scene-stealing grandeur by the very talented Moises Arias.
As Joe explains to Patrick, he doesn’t want to tell Biaggio to go away because “I’m not sure what he’s capable of.” No one is.
So the boys run away from home, the police get alerted, the media gloms onto the story and an idyllic summer is spent in a woods that can’t be more than a mile from the family homes. (The film was shot in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, near Cleveland.)
No, the filmmakers don’t even try too make you buy into a community that can’t find its kids. This is the fairy-tale aspect to the story. Even police as incompetent as the delightfully serious Mary Lynn Rajskub and her partner Thomas Middleditch, would have found the boys in a few hours.
Heck, even high-school friends drop by including Kelly (Erin Moriarty), on whom Joe has a major crush. That she makes a play instead for Patrick throws the boys’ relationship into a tailspin.
Nor does the movie dwell in the improbability of the house building. Scrapped together from whatever debris comes their way including a door from a portable toilet, the house gets thrown together in a swift montage to music.
The charm of this film lies in its actors and how their director allows them latitude to explore the weird interesting nooks and crannies of their characters. They really aren’t rebels at all but just boys intent on claiming the waning days of their boyhood before the inevitable arrival of manhood.
There is plenty of wit in the dialogue throughout and at a much higher rate than these kinds of movie usually generate. So in the end, this is a movie about kids for adults.
Despite the presence of cell phones and social media, the film feels almost like a period piece suffused with nostalgia.
Its dreamlike reverie for youth and those long days of summer makes “Kings” a fanciful film where reality gets suspended and even a snake bite can become a transformative event.
Opens May 31, 2013 (CBS Films)
Production companies: Big Beach, Low Spark Films
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Erin Moriarty, Marc Evan Jackson, Thomas Middleditch, Tony Hale
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenwriter: Chris Galletta
Producers: Tyler Davidson, Peter Saraf, John Hodges
Executive producers: Richard Rothfeld, Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Director of photography: Ross Riege
Production designer: Tyler Robinson
Music: Ryan Miller
Costume designer: Lynette Meyer
Editor: Terel Gibson
R rating, 93 minutes.