The movie doesn't exist in a real world (please don't waste energy trying to reconcile psychological motives or social logistics) but in the enchanted realm of a teenage summer.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts understands this charmed mood, which is why he layers the film with dewy inserts that would not be out of place in a Terrence Malick picture. The result is a nicely bittersweet ode to killing time and patching up differences.
We must begin by buying into screenwriter Chris Galetta's implausible premise. Three high-school lads build a ramshackle house of their own, in a clearing in some woods outside their suburban Ohio hometown.
Joe (Seattle native Nick Robertson) has had it with his ill-equipped father (Nick Offerman); both are working through hostilities connected to the death of Joe's mother.
Joe's friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is almost as disenchanted with his parents (Megan Mullally and Mark Evan Jackson), and so he joins his bud for the adventure.
A nerdy classmate named Biaggio (Moises Arias) also takes up residence in the forest pad.
Biaggio is not their friend, exactly, but he helps them construct the house, and he's just … sort of … always… there. An intensely bizarre lad given to disconnected one-liners, Biaggio is typical of the movie's odd vibe: He could not exist in real life, yet he's completely recognizable as a certain kind of kid.
A few weeks go by, the situation with Joe's crush Kelly (Erin Moriarty) becomes very complicated, and parents search for their boys. This missing-child scenario isn't played in the elfin, stylized mode of "Moonrise Kingdom," but it's not realism either. Whatever it is, Vogt-Roberts is onto something.
You may have noticed the names of some TV comedy regulars in the supporting cast. "The Kings of Summer" tosses the ball to these pros with gratifying regularity, which generates some of the jitterbugging rhythm of the "30 Rock" school without sacrificing the wistful undertones of the piece.
At times Vogt-Roberts -- whose previous work has been in TV and shorts -- catches the bounce of a Richard Lester-directed '60s comedy, and he already knows where the camera should be for a joke to pay off.
Added bonus: With its tale of breaking away, the movie supplies its own metaphor as a quiet respite in the hustle and bustle of a blockbuster summer at the movies. For which, much thanks.
"The Kings of Summer" (3½ stars)
Three high-school pals decide to live in the woods for the summer, a not-entirely-plausible premise given an enchanted treatment in this daydream of a movie. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts blends the bittersweet with the funny, and the movie's got a fine sense of timing.
Rated: R for language.
Showing: Harvard Exit.
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