The spirit of Stand By Me lives on in The Kings of Summer, a poignant and frequently hilarious coming-of-age film about three teenage friends yearning for freedom and independence. Remember those school summer breaks when the holidays seemed to stretch on forever and anything seemed possible? This is that movie, and anybody with fond memories of long, hot summers will get a kick out of Jordan Vogt-Roberts's big screen directorial debut.
Nick Robinson is at the centre of the film as Joe, a shy and awkward high-schooler who's at an emotional distance from his father Frank (Parks and Recreation's Nick Offerman). His mother died several years back and older sister Heather (Alison Brie) is engaged and flits in and out of the house. Joe has found solace in best pal Patrick (Super 8 star Gabriel Basso), who possesses excruciatingly annoying parents in the form of Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson, and friend/object of affection Kelly (Erin Moriarty).
The young leading trio bring a special kind of energy to the film, elevating it above the standard rites-of-passage tales that flood indie cinemas. Robinson is solemn yet soulful, Basso confident without boiling over into arrogant, but it's Arias who's the real scene-stealer, dropping into the film like a comedy grenade to detonate a bizarre one-liner or surreal observation. Claiming that the word snake means "demon's c*ck" in Italian and likening homosexuality for cystic fibrosis are just some of the things sprung from Biaggio's idiosyncratic imagination. Based on this performance, you feel Arias could have a prosperous future as the go-to oddball for Hollywood comedies.
Cracks do surface in this idyllic summer after a perceived romantic double-cross and friendships are tested to the limits. The film uses this to cleverly draws a personality parallel between Joe and his father, painting him as someone who could potentially fall into making Frank's mistakes.
Vogt-Roberts adeptly juggles the film's swinging tones, keeping it light and fun for the most part but managing to subtly steer the story into darker, more heartbreaking territory. He's aided by excellent performances across the board, with the senior cast members all nailing their characters in limited screen time. The Kings of Summer may not be a game-changer for the coming-of-age genre, but it's a charming way to while away 90 minutes.