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The Kings of Summer (2013)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 9/24/2013

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/20/2013

Another summer movie season has just ended and, as usual, we were bombarded with big movies which featured lots of action scenes, special effects, bombastic sounds, and big stars. Following a period like this, it can be difficult to remember that there are little movies out there. These movies don't have big names or an impressive array of visual acrobatics, but they do often deliver endearing characters and interesting stories. It can be very nice to visit a little movie every now and then, especially one as impressive as The Kings of Summer.

As The Kings of Summer opens, the school year is ending. Joe (Nick Robinson) is at his breaking point. He lives with his father, Frank (Nick Offerman), and the two are constantly at odds with one another. To make matters worse, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the girl of Joe's dreams, is dating a jerk -- although she is always friendly to Joe. Patrick isn't very happy either. He just wants to have a normal teenaged life, but his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) smother him, treating him as if he were still a small child. While attending an end of the year party, Joe wanders into the woods and finds a beautiful clearing. He's followed to this spot by Biaggio (Moises Arias), a classmate who Joe doesn't really know. The next day, Joe, again followed by Biaggio, brings Patrick to the clearing and unveils his plan -- they are going to build a house there and live independently, away from their parents. Patrick is skeptical at first, but he soon joins in. The boys get to work on the project and truly push themselves. Soon, they, and their parents, will learn the importance of family.

I referred to The Kings of Summer as a little movie, and in many ways, that moniker is accurate. Aside from what you've read above, there isn't much more to the story. The boys want freedom, they build a house in the woods, and they attempt to have a life there. There are some very small subplots, but otherwise, the movie is about Joe and his work to make his unique idea come true. To say that the movie is short on story would be inaccurate, although it does feel like it at times, as The Kings of Summer simply contains too many musical montages. This is the film's only real weak-point, as the use of this device wears thin and we are painfully aware of how much we want to get back to the characters.

The movie may have the feel of a little movie, but it delivers in a big way in the areas that matter. First of all, the movie is surprisingly funny. Moises Arias, who I remember glimpsing when my kids would watch Hannah Montana, steals the show here. Biaggio is a truly quirky character and nearly everything that comes out of his mouth is comedy gold. His description of why he doesn't like girls had me in tears. But, the laughs don't stop there. Real life husband and wife Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally both show off their comedy chops here. No one can do gruff like Offerman and he opens the film with some classic lines and doesn't let up until the end. One can't help but wonder if Mullally is making up her bizarre dialogue on the spot and her tirade in the police station priceless. (As is her line about spicing up chicken soup, which I've repeated several times since seeing the film.)

The Kings of Summer also works very well as a drama. While the central idea may seem a bit far-fetched (although it's simply extrapolating on the idea of spending the summer in a "fort" or tree house), it never comes across as bizarre. And while Joe and Patrick's "problems" pale in comparison to the traumas which some teens face, we understand why they would want some breathing room. The movie takes this idea and moves slightly into a The Lord of the Flies direction, as the boys true colors begin to show. We see how friendship and animosity can often go hand-in-hand, and it makes for some bittersweet moments which lead to a satisfying ending.

It would be easy to compare The Kings of Summer to Stand by Me or Moonrise Kingdom (in fact, the blurb on the front of the box does just that!), but that isn't accurate. Stand by Me is far darker and more serious than this film. The tone of Moonrise Kingdom is a little closer, but Wes Anderson's movies appear to exist in another universe, while The Kings of Summer strives for some semblance of realism. While it isn't perfect (those montages!), The Kings of Summer is the most rewarding little movie that I've seen in ages. The story is just whimsical enough to catch our attention, the acting is solid, and the laughs make it worth the ride. If you are looking for something a little different, swear your allegiance to The Kings of Summer.

The Kings of Summer made me crave a quarter white on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source materials. However, there is a fine sheen of grain on the image throughout the film. The colors look very good, most notably the green of the forest, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as is the depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The first thing that you'll notice about this track is that it doesn't shy away from subwoofer effects. In fact, the bass is so powerful in one of the montages, that it becomes headache inducing. This is notably louder than the dialogue or incidental music. That aside, the dialogue is clear, and the scenes in the woods do provide a nice variety of stereo and surround effects, some of which are nicely detailed.

The Kings of Summer Blu-ray Disc contain a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Writer Chris Galletta and Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias. The Disc contains five DELETED AND EXTENDED SCENES which run about 14 minutes. The good news is that we get two completely new scenes here, which were abandoned in the editing process. The bad news is that we get more montages, which is the last thing we need. "The Long Shot" (3 minutes) is a very brief featurette in which the filmmakers touch on how the project came about, while the cast describe their feelings about the movie. "Frankly Speaking with Frank Toy" (1 minute) is a fake infomercial which features Nick Offerman's great quotes from the movie. Alison Brie and Eugene Cordero describe their characters in "Alison and Eugene" (2 minutes).

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.