Trailer Face-Off: The Kings of Summer vs. The Way Way Back

Published April 25, 2013

Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: The Kings of Summer vs. The Way Way Back, two coming-of-age comedies about teenage boys finding themselves over the course of a summer.

PremiseFrom Stand by Me to Almost Famous and American Pie, the teenage boy coming-of-age film is well-worn territory—but it is also very enjoyable. After all, in what other genre is the very nature of the subjects so innately hilarious? Two upcoming comedies, The Kings of Summer and The Way Way Back, feature plotlines in which teenage boys, in all their awkward adolescent glory, attempt to navigate through a single summer while their relationships with their parents, girls, and each other are tested to comedic, and ultimately heartwarming, lengths. Kings follows Joe, Patrick, and Biaggio: two good friends and one oddball (à la Alan in The Hangover or McLovin’ in Superbad) who decide to run away from their overbearing parents and build their own homestead far away from authority in the suburban woods. The Way Way Back features Duncan (Liam James) on a summer trip with his mother and her jerk of a boyfriend, who befriends the owner of a local water park and commits to learning about life and love.Advantage: The Kings of Summer

Vacation DestinationThe Kings of Summer don’t venture far from their homes to set up their lawless paradise, and much of the comedy lies in this. In one scene, after unsuccessfully attempting to hunt and gather food, the boys concede to buying chicken from the Boston Market located within walking distance in their anonymously suburban area. They do seem to have some run-ins with nature—a rattlesnake, for instance, and some lake swimming.  In The Way Way Back, Duncan, his family, and family friends are on Cape Cod, at his mother’s boyfriend’s beach house. There’s lots of booze, beach, and boats for the adults, but not much for the kids— until Duncan discovers the water park, a sun-bleached relic with wood-frame waterslides that have seen better days, and seems to start enjoying himself.Advantage: The Way Way Back

Parents Just Don’t UnderstandThe parents in The Kings of Summer and The Way Way Back are out of touch with their kids in the heartwarming way that parents in coming-of-age comedies are usually out of touch with their kids. Enough so, by the end of the film, they realize that they’ve been A. Selfish, or B. Too involved, and a touching reconciliation will occur. The adults in both films are comedy veterans, and are sure to deliver laughs. The Kings of Summer promises Nick Offerman as Joe’s overbearing single father and Megan Mullally as Patrick’s embarrassingly involved mother. Like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, which were produced by the same studio, much of the comedy in The Way Way Back comes from the earnestly misinformed parents. The always-welcome Toni Colette plays Duncan’s mother and Steve Carrell her smarmy, unsupportive boyfriend.Advantage: The Way Way Back

The GirlLike any good movie about teenage boys, The Kings of Summer and The Way Way Back feature some level of hormonal infatuation. The impetus of Joe’s decision to run away involves his father stepping between his budding romance with Kelly, the pretty blonde, though it’s unclear if they reconcile their love later on—in fact, in a refreshing reversal of tropes, it seems like the camaraderie between the boys in the woods may trump their adolescent lust. The Way Way Back plays out differently. It’s clear that Duncan is smitten with Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter in the other vacationing family. A kiss happens, and probably another, on the boardwalk. You know, summer love.Advantage: The Kings of Summer

The Friend ZoneThe Kings of Summer is, above all else, a movie about friendship, and it seems that the bond between the three runaways plays to the strength of the film and it’s comedy. There are shots of them sharing bikes, jumping into water together, and building and hammering. The ultimate acts of independence by those too young to be truly independent. Duncan, the protagonist in The Way Way Back, seems like more of a loner saddened by his family and their continued alienation. The adult friends he makes at the water park, including Sam Rockwell as a skeevy man-child and Maya Rudolph as the female employee keeping him in check, are the people who really seem to encourage Duncan to grow.Advantage: The Kings of Summer

The VerdictBoth films are going to be funny, and The Way Way Back has star power and setups that promise for an extremely enjoyable time. But the plot for The Kings of Summer seems less tired and a little bit sweeter and more sincere.Winner: The Kings of Summer

Trailer Face-Off runs every Thursday. For more, click here.