The Kings of Summer Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Every teenager fantasizes about ditching restrictive parents and becoming self-sufficient. The Kings of Summer, which was called Toy’s House when it premiered at Sundance a few months ago, indulges that juvenile fantasy, telling the story of three teen boys (Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias) who get fed up with their respective home lives and build themselves a bona fide dwelling out in the woods, stealing materials from construction sites. Initially a paradise, this mini-commune predictably winds up becoming a microcosm of the world they’ve strived to abandon, especially after one of them breaks their own first rule and invites an outsider—a girl, no less—to visit.
Working from a clumsy script by Chris Galletta, first-time director Jordan Vogt-Roberts alternates between forced whimsy (mostly involving Arias’ bizarre character, who speaks in goofy non sequiturs) and self-conscious brooding. The Kings of Summer wants to say something relatively serious about the adolescent perception of manhood, but it’s also terrified that we’ll either miss the point or get bored, so every other scene features either a pointed speech or a distracting joke, and several scenes include both. Ultimately, the film comes across as an insubstantial lark, no more mature than its protagonists.