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An Easy Summer Retreat 

Kings of Summer is almost Stand By Me

The Kings of Summer is about two typical teenage boys—boys with parent troubles, girl troubles, and friend troubles. But rather than work through their troubles in tried-and-true teen-movie fashion, The Kings of Summer's beleaguered protagonists grab a nerdy sidekick and take to the woods, determined to build a new life on their own terms.

Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and token weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias) think they're being men, heading to live in the woods without a word to their families about where they're going, cobbling together a crappy shack out of stolen two-by-fours and a scavenged porta-potty. But this retreat is really a last-ditch effort to keep adulthood at bay: They're building a fort, playing house, keeping adult responsibilities at arm's length for just a little bit longer.

The problem is that while the film's T-shirt-clad protagonists could've waltzed out of Stand by Me, the let's-build-a-house-with-our-hands escapism reads like the daydream of a stressed-out adult who's tired of waking up with his iPhone pressed against his cheek. It is not, in other words, a particularly plausible teenaged adventure, or a particularly compelling one.

The movie's early scenes, though, are brilliant, perfectly nailing interactions between these surly kids and their baffled, out-of-touch parents. And the adult cast of this film is so, so good: Nick Offerman plays one kid's dad, Megan Mullally an overbearing mother, Alison Brie a sympathetic older sister. When Joe sabotages his dad's board-game night, or Patrick grimly endures dinner with his gratingly peppy parents, The Kings of Summer approaches teen-movie brilliance. Unfortunately, those dynamics are basically ditched after the film's first act in favor of house-building montages. It made me wish for a more conventional coming-of-age story—one in which family friction is endured, rather than escaped.

Pilot Butte

dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts

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