Of course, all of the lead actors in the film are still teenagers themselves, which made screenwriter Chris Galletta and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts film almost autobiographical for them.
“I guess the short answer would be, yes. Who hasn’t?” chimed in actor Moises Arias, who along with actors Nick Robinson and Gabriel Basso decides to flee to the wilderness, planning to build a makeshift house and live off the land as masters of their own destinies. That’s the premise behind this very clever coming-of-age film, which premiered under the title “Toy’s House” at Sundance.
“I think there’s a time in every young boy’s life, probably every teen’s life, when they think they could go it on their own,” Galletta said. “It’s a right of passage for most of us, but that’s not the cliché I was looking for when I wrote the screenplay. This truly is a tale of many a summer—young boys setting out on their own to see what the world holds for them. And these three actors were great at portraying exactly what I was trying to convey.”
Along with actress Erin Moriarty, starring of late in ABC’s “Red Widow” and who plays the romantic interest of two of the boys, all of whom are either 18 or 19 years old, Galletta’s story comes to life in a touching and powerful way.
“For me, I think the idea of being independent, being on our own, is something most every boy thinks about,” said Robinson, who plays Joe Toy, the ring leader of this trio of young men. He’s challenged by his widow father (the wonderful Nick Offerman) and older sister (actress Alison Brie), and feels like the grass could certainly be greener in another pasture. In this case, that pasture lies deep within a forest near his home where, after recruiting friend Patrick (Basso) and the eccentric and scene-stealing Biaggio (Arias, who you can see in the highly-anticipated “Ender’s Game” this fall), they build a house using mostly discarded materials. In their hideaway, they survive, they strive, and they begin to realize that leaving home doesn’t mean not missing it.
“My character has a little bit more perspective on our father, and where he’s coming from,” Brie said. “Jordan says she’s the only true sane character in the film, which is a change for me to play.” Brie is, of course, perhaps best known for her role as zany, love-struck Annie on NBC’s “Community.” “This film really was interesting to shoot, because the tone of the movie shifts a lot. The stuff with the boys is very dramatic, and at times whimsical and fun. Our scenes deal with a lot of comedy, but the underlying thing is that your brother’s run away, your son is missing, so it was interesting to balance those tones—letting comedy exist but playing the reality.”
Brie said she never had the desire to run away, “but I do remember when I was like 10 or 11 playing a running away game in my room. It wasn’t because I didn’t like my parents. I would just kind of put on this record in my room and then sneak out the window, and sneak around to the front of the house and the game would end. It was kind of exciting to climb out that window.”
Moriarty said working with the three young actors was “just great. Nick caught right on to everybody’s sarcastic, funny tone that we were working with, just like Moises and Gabriel. We had a lot of fun.” Brie adds that working with Offerman, and his real-life wife Megan Mullally, “was a dream come true. I didn’t have any scenes with Megan (who portray’s Basso’s mother), but to watch her and Nick between scenes was a hoot. There was a great feeling of family on the set.”
“The Kings of Summer” is now playing in independent film theaters nationwide, and getting very positive reviews. With a combination of experienced and up-and-coming cast members, it’s a fun summertime escape from reality, which, for most of us, is something we probably all need at times.
–Tom Haraldsen, photos by Chalese Dalton for On and Beyond