A closer look at… The Kings of Summer

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The Scoop

Joe (Nick Robinson) is sick of putting up with the moods of his distant, widowed father (Nick Offerman). Meanwhile, Joe’s best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is being driven round the bend by his own doting parents, the Keenans (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson). The two teenagers make a pact: they’ll run away and build their own house deep in the woods, make their own rules, and live their own lives. Somehow, diminutive oddball Biaggio (Moises Arias) ends up tagging along with them.

For a while, everything seems perfect as the three boys enjoy their freedom – though their attempts to live off the land leave something to be desired. But then Joe invites Kelly (Erin Moriarty), the girl with whom he’s infatuated, into their secret idyll, and there’s trouble in paradise.

  • Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? Which scenes or performances particularly stood out for you?
  • Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts cites the influence of ’80s coming-of-age films like Stand By Me, The Goonies and Back to the Future. If you have seen any of these films, how does The Kings of Summer compare? Which elements of the film are nostalgic, and which elements are more contemporary?

‘Now we make movies where “it’s just a comedy,” or “it’s just this” as opposed to being this full spectrum that [1980s] movies exhibited.’ – Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts

  • How – and how effectively – does The Kings of Summer balance its comedy with its weightier dramatic moments? What do you make of Vogt-Roberts’s comments about the limitations of genre in contemporary filmmaking? To what extent are genre categories useful when making and thinking about films, and to what extent are they limiting?

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  • How did you respond to Joe and Patrick’s frustration with their home lives, and to the film’s portrayal of their families? In this respect, how might the film play differently to audiences at different life stages?

‘I think a handful of reviews are going to write [Biaggio] off as being underdeveloped when it was sort of like an intentional choice for us at least to say “We want to tell you nothing about this character, yet also have you know everything you need to know.”’ – Jordan Vogt-Roberts

  • What did you make of Biaggio, and his bizarre behaviour and dialogue throughout the film? Did you want to know more about his background and home life, or do you agree with Vogt-Roberts that we actually find out all we need to about him? How did you feel about his sacrifice at the end of the story?

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  • What ideas do Joe, Patrick and Biaggio have about what it means to be a man, and how – if at all – do these ideas change over the course of the story? How, and why, is Joe’s concept of manhood tied up in ideas such as independence, ownership, practical provision, dominance over nature, and romantic success? How might our culture define a ‘real man’?

‘Everything was fine until you came into the picture. You’re like a cancer.’ – Joe

  • How does Joe perceive Kelly initially, and how does this change over the course of the story? Is she primarily portrayed as the object of his affection, or as a person in her own right, and why does the distinction matter?
  • In your view, what – if anything – did the parents in The Kings of Summer do wrong? Is it even possible for the parents of adolescents to ‘get it right’, and if so, how? What are the responsibilities of parents once their children have reached adulthood, and no longer need the same practical care?

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‘We do swear under pain of friendship lost to never speak of this enterprise to any adult, and to never betray its location or its participants, and from this day forthwith to boil our own water, kill our own food, build our own shelter and be our own men.’ – Joe

  • What moral structures, both spoken and unspoken, are put in place as the boys set up their new home together? What consequences are there when parts of this code are broken? What kind of basic moral code is necessary in order for a civilisation or society to function
  • How do the concerns of suburban life (particularly those apparent in Patrick’s home) contrast with life in the woods? To what extent is interaction with the natural world necessary for human wholeness, and to what extent is it sufficient for human wholeness? What is it about nature which might draw us closer to the spiritual dimension of life?

‘Did this work, running away? I mean, are you really happy out here?’ – Kelly

  • What makes the woods a ‘paradise’ for the boys, and what is it that causes this paradise to break down? Could – or should – their ‘perfect’ life together have been sustained for any real length of time? Is it possible to gain freedom without running away from life’s problems and constraints, and if so, how?

 

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at www.damarismedia.com Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.