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'Bling Ring' And 'Kings Of Summer' Find American Youth Lost Or Under Arrest

Two new films opened the same day that offer clever, stylized looks at American teenagers feeling besieged and taking their sad lives into their own industrious yet limited hands.

In The Kings of Summer, two high school boys decide to build a makeshift house in the woods to escape their well-meaning but annoying parents. Unfamiliar homes figure, too, in The Bling Ring, but they're those of celebrities that a well-dressed gang of Los Angeles kids decide to break into and rob. Boys and girls and girls and boys coming together and falling apart isn't a novel theme but it's a welcome one when explored by such talented filmmakers.

The Kings of Summer could be the surprise of the summer. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writer Chris Galletta share an eye and an ear for how suburban youth see the world from a defensive position and they've made a smart and funny movie about boys being boys as they grow into men.

Joe (Nick Robinson), who lives with his widower father (Nick Offerman), has his heart primed for a blonde classmate; one night, he finds himself not at the party she's invited him to but playing Monopoly with Dad and his new girlfriend. His best buddy Patrick (Gabriel Basso) also has a low tolerance for his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), who seem to always say the wrong things.

When Joe discovers a Walden Pond-like clearing in the woods outside their town, he envisions building a home there that would cocoon him, and his friend Patrick, outside their parents' watch. They're joined by the peculiar Biaggio (Moises Arias), who has rhythm but no sense of social timing. Their summer unfolds with blissful ignorance about how upset their families are about their disappearance.

Director Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring was inspired by a Vanity Fair article about a true-life crime spree that ended up incarcerating seemingly untouchable children of privilege. The homes of pop celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan were staked out via the internet and then robbed of jewelry, shoes and clothes by a clique of high school status seekers. The four girls and one boy get away with it for awhile and then indict themselves by their inability to be subtle about their designer label haul.

Its shooting of easy targets (both the living and metaphoric ones) could have come off as cheap shots. But Coppola has a deft touch telling stories about people lost in their own collective haze of narcissism and grandiosity, from Lost in Translation to Marie Antoinette to the underrated Somewhere. These vacuous, glassy-eyed teens are certainly ripe for satire but it's not hard here to find them less possessed by things than utter emptiness.


The Kings of Summer | Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts | 1 hour 33 minutes | Showing at Glenwood Arts. Click here for showtimes.


The Bling Ring | Dir. Sofia Coppola | 1 hour 30 minutes | Showing at many theaters. Click here for showtimes.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.