Originally titled ‘Toy House’ this is a sort of sweet coming-of-age comedy and drama that does at least grab the essence of summer, it just at times feels as if it’s forcing dramatic connections too much and some of the comedic moments are annoying not funny.
The plot sees a growing lad called Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) growing in frustration at living with his single father who always comes down on him. Joe’s friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is in the same boat of getting sick of his parents who are pretty darn irritating. After a freak disperse at a party, Joe and the local oddball Biaggio (Moises Arias) stumble upon a clearing in the woods that sparks off an idea in Joe to runaway from home and make their own place in the wild.
The first section of the film is really good and looks stunning. The opening beat of the metal pipe smashed on by Patrick and Joe make for a big echoing beat that looks good in slow motion and makes for an interesting unique curtain opener. The set up of Joe as well is good and his bird house mishap is a good little character detail to get more into the zone of who Joe is. There is a lot of slow motion to be had, not just in the first stages of this movie but throughout. Sometimes it succeeds and sometimes it feels like someone is going overboard with putting slo-mo in. The story does a great job in giving us the characters and setting up the feeling of what is to come. The hints at attraction Joe has for fellow school goer Kelly (Erin Moriarty) are fed in enough that we get he’s into her even if she is dating. This becomes more significant as his emotions to do with her are played with down the line.
As the film progresses it starts, at times, feeling a tad pushy in making parallels clear to the audience. It’s already nearly 100% obvious that the film starts alluding to the similarities between how Joe is becoming like his father but then there’s a montage segment that cuts back and forth between the two in similar situations, just in home vs. wild and that’s unnecessary. Also in the nature world there is a lot of close ups of animals, trees or other suitably woody like shots to make you realise they’re moving into this green environment. It’s alright to begin with but they don’t need to keep on showing these close ups, it’s not a BBC documentary narrated by David Attenborough.
The soundtrack is both fantastic and annoying. There are some moments where the music feeling your ears stirs the right emotions and works with the images moving on the screen and there are other songs that feel out of place but wouldn’t go amiss in an MTV marathon. It’s the fact that music comes into play a lot that takes away from the power of silence or just dialogue. I truly feel that cinema doesn’t need to rely on music to tell a story and if it does then the story isn’t worth telling. You can present a film without overusing a soundtrack and this film goes into that direction.
Joe is played brilliantly by Nick Robinson, even if connecting to his character becomes harder to do as he becomes more of an unlikeable fellow. I realise it is part of the development in his love and agony of how to deal with the facts he witnesses but some of the things he says and does make it a little difficult to empathise with him. At least Robinson portrays this changing character with conviction and becomes the wild man needed to sell this summer of discovery story. Basso plays Patrick really well in being the pulled along best friend who has more likeability than Joe but doesn’t have the motivation all the time to come up with these schemes. Arias really hits it out of the park in being the strikingly surreal yet kind Biaggio, he can sometimes be a slight annoyance but on the most part his comedy lands and he gets the biggest share of laughs with Nick Offerman who plays Joe’s dad Frank. The ‘Parks and Recreation’ star gets his teeth into the funnier model of parental nasty than that compared to Steve Carell’s father in ‘The Way Way Back’, though both are harsh and unlikeable characters. Alison Brie is in a small capacity unfortunately but plays the sweet caring sister of Joe well and does the job of helping Frank see he can be mean to others.
There are some frankly brilliant scenes in this film, the opening, the construction of the wood house, the two monopoly scenes are brilliant in magiking up that tense family strain when playing board games. The case of crossing the road for chicken is a funny aspect in their failed trials of being at one with nature. It’s a good little summery movie of adventure in friendship and heartbreak and it’s hard now to get a coming-of-age drama/comedy flick right in an ever increasing market of them but this squeezes in as a satisfactory addition to the genre.
A good film if not as great as I was expecting and hoping for. It achieves the sunny side of summer and the more downer moods of unrequited love but I doubt it will stand the test of time as an example of how to make these types of movies.