Welcome to Rhys Johnson’s Quiet Corner, a safe haven for filmmakers, film enthusiasts, film students and, perhaps most importantly of all, general procrastinators. If you’re a little tired from roaming the vast wasteland of the internet, why not help yourself to a pipe and a snifter of brandy, as we reminisce about films and stuff.
Disillusioned with life with their respective families, The Kings of Summer is about teenagers Joe, Patrick and tag-along Biaggio run away from home to build a cabin in the woods where they spend most of their summer living off the land. Whilst in the woods, the three learn a lesson in friendship, independence and what it means to be a true man.
Masculinity is a key theme throughout the film and the main character, Joe (played by Nick Robinson), can be seen as quite inferior when compared to the rest of the other characters. His friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) has a broken foot sustained while wrestling; physically he’s the biggest out of the group and doesn’t let his broken foot get in the way of building the makeshift cabin, but he’s also very survival-savvy and takes offence when Joe leaves chicken bones on the floor because it attracts snakes. I got the feeling that Joe and Patrick have a solid relationship but there is a slight hint of resentment from Joe which takes over when a couple of girls they know start to visit the cabin.
The theme of masculinity is also the key thing that stands out when looking at Joe’s relationship with his father Frank (Nick Offerman, who I am a big admirer of). Frank is a single father who doesn’t put up with crap – he smokes cigars when playing Monopoly and, because it’s Nick Offerman, has a mighty fine beard. Joe’s attempt at growing facial hair while away is offensive, especially when compared with Frank. When returning to civilisation, Joe actually keeps a moustache, almost as a badge of honour and to show that he is capable of being a man. Joe is constantly trying to prove something to his old man but eventually takes on the characteristics of his dad that he hates the most, and, I suppose quite ironically, it boils over when playing Monopoly. We’ve all gotten angry over a game of Monopoly, right?
I found Joe to be a very frustrating character to deal with at first, but at the end of the film I actually quite liked him, despite him being a complete arsehole when girls show up. The relationship with his dad is volatile at best and the girl he fawns over has a douchebag boyfriend who treats Joe like garbage for no reason. There’s a brilliant mental image that Joe has when his crush, Kelly, tells him that she split up with her boyfriend, and that’s the window of opportunity he needed badly and one that I wanted him to take. Anyone who has been told by the girl they like that you’re “like a brother” to them has to feel for the guy, and it’s the reason that he turns into a tool. It’s not excusable for him to take his frustration out on Patrick and Baggio, but it’s a reason.
Patrick has baggage too: he’s on the high school wrestling team, can probably get any girl he wants, but is constantly emasculated and undermined by his parents. It’s unintentional on their part, but it’s relentless enough to give him hives. He seems like a genuinely lovely guy who just wanted to get away from his household for a while and I respected his attitude throughout the film, even when the fun starts to unravel.
It’s easy to draw parallels between this film and Sean Penn’s 2007 hitInto The Wild as they share similar themes and narrative. Chris McCandless set off for Alaska to ostracise himself from the strains of money, family and technology. Joe set off for the woods to spite his father, and prove himself as man to both his dad and the woman he has a crush on. The Kings of Summer never really digs deep enough to the core like Into The Wild though, probably because it’s not based on a true story like Into the Wild, but still has enough about it to be a really solid movie. If you want a more hard hitting message, then watch Penn’s more depressing, realistic and frankly superior film. If you want something a little lighter and possibly more upbeat, then The Kings of Summer is a decent watch.
If there’s anything to take from The Kings of Summer, it’s:
1) You can’t outman Nick Offerman. Don’t even try it.
2) Burn every Monopoly board you see, it’s the root of all evil.
3) Being the master of your domain is more than facial hair and cabin building ability, it’s about how you treat other people.