by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts
As soon as I read Chris Galletta's script for The Kings of Summer I was in shock. I couldn't believe that another director wasn't attached to it. I knew right away that this was the story I wanted and needed to tell for my first feature.
I often think of a quote by Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, where he said, “People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.” Trying to reconcile how someone who created such an amazing work of art that so perfectly captured youth could also be so jaded toward youth itself fascinates me. Like Watterson's quote, The Kings of Summer is a movie about how being 14 is simultaneously the greatest experience of your life and one that you never should want to relive because of how horribly painful and awkward it is, even though it's what ultimately makes you who you are as you grow up. I specifically wanted to explore that dichotomy through humor and nostalgia.
I wanted to make a movie that will have adults reflecting on where they came from and who they have become while marveling at a new generation of youth. I also wanted the movie to strike kids in the way the best John Hughes movies did—making them simultaneously feel personally connected to the issues on screen while having the characters be idealized enough that they're left wishing they are the characters on screen. I never wanted the film to feel too specific to a date or time so it could take on a timeless and accessible fable vibe.
It’s easy to make a film that gets “dark,” but what’s much more difficult to do is make a movie that is uplifting without becoming cheesy. Some of The Kings of Summer has a dark and unsettling undercurrent as to not betray the reality and pain of being that age. The main protagonists are self-inflicted outsiders at a very precocious age where it’s easy to think you have the world figured out (when in fact you understand very little about it). At times they make decisions that are earnest, funny and real but can be exposed as myopic in ways that emotionally and physically endangers those around them. I think all of the above elements take the audience on a journey that might not be exactly what they're expecting but will be worth it because of its honesty and humor.
I believe that comedy has been put in a rather boring box over the last few decades. Not that this is a romantic comedy by any means but as an example of how far we've diluted comedy: "rom-com" is a dirty word these days but it's easy to forget that Annie Hall was a rom-com. I wanted this movie to bring back technical filmmaking with cinematic flair and scope to comedy. I believe that comedy can be visually beautiful, striking, lyrical and ethereal in a way that accents the humor to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. When a comedy can ride the highs and lows of life and slalom between them to make the comedy funnier and the drama have more weight I think it makes everything more poignant and real.
Comedy revels in the torturous chasm that exists between the real and the idea—between how things really are, and how we want them to be. Improvisation allows an actor to see all the shades and nuance on that spectrum, from tragic dirge to slapstick. This movie hits all notes on that spectrum and to achieve that I sent all the teenage actors through improv training. Not so they would be quick or witty, but so that they would be comfortable enough in their own skin that they could bring elements to the movie that only the brain of a teenager could conjure. Many of my favorite parts of the movie are completely improvised moments of the kids being kids.
To me this movie has always been a funnier, darker, weirder, post-modern Stand By Me and I wanted the whole movie to be a constant marriage of old meets new. Merging '70s filmmaking with early '80s Amblin entertainment, smashing that against much more modern techniques and layering it with very alternative comedy was the goal. In essence: telling a slightly traditional story in a completely non-traditional way.
For the best possible reasons, I don't think The Kings of Summer is easily defined, but I do think it is a movie that everyone can enjoy because it's about the simple fact that often the hardest battles you fight in life aren't against someone else—but against yourself.