Pure Sunshine

The Kings of Summer embraces youth, imagination and the splendor of Ohio's longest days.

There is something about the summer days of our teen years that seem longer and more perfect in our memories than they ever could have been in reality. Maybe it's because life had a clearer line drawn around it then, be it the boundaries set by our parents or the limits of our age. Maybe those days only sweeten over time because we know they are impossible to revisit, and we've long since forgotten how frustrating they often were.

The Kings of Summer understands these complex and competing emotions. Calling director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' debut feature film a coming-of-age movie doesn't quite do it justice. It's at times a charming comedy and at others a potent drama. It's a fairy tale of sorts about Joe Toy, who ditches his complicated home life for the summer to build a house in the woods with his two friends, Patrick and Biaggio. The idea works because the boys and the rough-hewn-but-functional hideout they construct seem fully tethered to the world in which we live.

"John Hughes' movies had a core truth about what being a certain age was," Vogt-Roberts says. "The characters were idealized just enough that they still felt real. ... Everything in the movie we kind of wanted to approach that way."

That authenticity is seasoned with unapologetic moments of visual beauty: sun-soaked Ohio fields and forests, and slow-motion sequences of the main characters diving off ledges and splitting soda cans with a machete. You know, the things boys do.

Although the kids' relationship with each other lies at the heart of the film, The Kings of Summer also offers great performances from Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) as Joe's father and Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) as Patrick's mother. They excel at embodying the far end of those seemingly unspannable distances that often separate teens and parents.

Produced by South Russell resident and Chagrin Falls native Tyler Davidson, The Kings of Summer debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and was the opening night film at the Cleveland International Film Festival this year. It received its theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles on May 31, with Cleveland to follow June 7.

Davidson's involvement helped transport screenwriter Chris Galletta's script — originally set in Staten Island, N.Y. — to the forests of Northeast Ohio. The production schedule was arduous as the crew filmed in 12 different cities and villages over the course of last summer's 26-day shoot, moving from meadow to quarry to riverbed.

"The level of nature and the level of character at each one of those locations ... I don't know where else we could have gotten that many different types of things," Vogt-Roberts says. "I don't think people even know Ohio looks like that."

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