The Kings of Summer is also easily the best looking coming-of-age film I’ve ever seen. Scenes between the three boys are interspersed with gorgeous shots of the wooded paradise they’ve escaped to. A rabbit sniffs some berries resting on a leaf. Water reflects the orangey sprinkled rays of the setting sun. Wind makes waves over a field of golden wheat. It’s beautiful, and the cuts between the main characters and these nature shots never feel forced. There are a lot of them, but we never feel taken out of the moment. The story always maintains focus, and these dreamy sequences of trees and animals only reinforce the idyllic environment the three boys find themselves in. Vogt-Roberts shows confidence and conviction in both the composition of the shots as well as the structure of the film. In a less talented director’s hands, the frequent cuts to woodland creatures would feel pretentious and out of place, but they work beautifully here.
For each of the script’s problems, however, there is a flash of brilliance. Biaggio’s endless stream of one-liners that seem to come out of nowhere kept me laughing, and he surprisingly shows some solid character development. Frank’s dialogue is altogether great, with his armor of sarcasm giving way to moments of vulnerability. And the interaction between Joe and Patrick is believable and true. One scene in particular stands out: sitting by the fire eating chicken from Boston Market, the three boys discuss (once again) how they are the masters of their own fate, how no one can tell them what to do. But then Joe throws a chicken bone on the ground, which Patrick, annoyed, picks up and throws in the fire. Joe chides Patrick about what a stiff he is, but Patrick retorts that food on the ground attracts mice, and mice attract snakes. From now on, they need to dispose of their food properly. It’s a small, seemingly insignificant moment, but it shows how much their characters are really shaped by their parents. Patrick, for all his disdain towards them, wants to create order and to keep their house clean, just like his parents. And Joe shrugs off Patrick’s complaints and makes fun of him, like his own father would. It’s a subtle comparison but one that really works. I wish the film had explored the two boys’ similarities to their parents a little more.
While The Kings of Summer occasionally slips up in the scripting department, the chemistry between its three leads, the sharpness of its supporting cast, and the elegant, assured cinematography more than make up for it.