Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer is being marketed as the kind of comedic jam that follows in the footsteps of indie gems like Napoleon Dynamite, but its true spiritual and artistic uncles are gauzy, montage-heavy cinema pieces like Like Crazy, which might be kind of a bummer for kids heading to the multiplex in search of raucous weirdness.

Not that this is a bad thing. The Kings of Summer is an exploration of growing up and getting out of the house - in the most literal way possible, it should be said - but it's also a sweet look at male friendship at the crossroads between childhood and adulthood. These characters are old enough to scavenge for building materials for the woodsy shelter and wield a machete without anyone getting killed, but young enough that they still ask God to give them an omen (i.e. an escape route) when faced with scary things they don't want to do. They're in the sweet spot when girls matter about as much as parents do, where bikes are the only way to get around town, and where death can be willed away if only you can just get calm enough.

Not a lot actually happens in The Kings of Summer - seriously, the movie is like 70% montage - and while the characters have cell phones and go to keggers, the movie seems to be set in some timeless Small Town Universe where has changed since 1963. One of the characters goes to a library, for pete's sake. As if Wikipedia hadn't been invented yet. Whatever!

I think it's part of wave of nostalgia for Before The Internet. Two more teen-oriented movies are coming out this summer set in times (The To-Do List in 1993) or places (The Way Way Back at a cottage) where cell phone reception is spotty at best. They're times and places where people talk to each other instead of texting and where swimming in the lake take precedence over The Sims.

As more and more human interaction is mediated by technology - texts, gchat, Skype, and what-have-you - I think culture producers are going to have a tougher time dramatizing stories about daily human lived experiences. As so, while the reality is that many of spend a lot of time alone, in front of screens, "with" our friends, that makes for an awfully boring movie. Setting things in a timeless forest, or 1993, or during the apocalypse after the internet's been wiped out, or in a superheroing cadre that doesn't need the internet, is a good way of mitigating that alone/screen/"with" storytelling dynamic.

As a result, we'll see fewer and fewer of our stories onscreen. More magical realism, more superheroes, more period pieces, but far fewer movies made about the human experience in 2013. This is, I think, a loss: for films to be art, they need to show us something about our humanity that we can't know any other way. And films can't do that if they're side-stepping the way we actually live in favour of stories that are simply easier to tell.

So: The Kings of Summer. Not terrible, not exceptional - the shooting style is very Instagram - but notable for it being the first of the summer movies to get outside the computer box. It won't be the last.