There’s something evocative about a Colonial split-level dancing in the heat waves coming off the pavement in the dead of summer. Suburban summertime is a singular thing, and it stirs up visceral sense memories: the excruciating wait for that last day of school, the thick humidity hanging in the air before a summer storm, the desperate boredom that comes with the territory of being a kid under the rule of parental law.

Kings of Summer

Kings of Summer

The Kings of Summer hits those notes with pitch perfection and laugh-out-loud comedic timing. Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) decides to escape the suffocating company of his father (the always scene-stealing Nick Offerman) and steal away to the woods with his best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso) and resident class weirdo Biaggio (Moises Arias). They make off with the materials, canned goods and pasta, and escape to their own latter-day Walden Pond, setting up shop in a self-made clubhouse fit for the Lost Boys of the Corn Belt. They solemnly swear to live like mountain men, hunting and gathering, living off the land: experiencing true freedom for the first time. All’s well in this idyllic world until a pretty girl shows up and throws a wrench in things, as pretty girls are want to do.

There will be the inevitable coming-of-age comparisons to Stand By Me, from which this film is undoubtedly descended. But universal themes are universal for a reason, and The Kings of Summer takes them on with wit and heart to spare.

It captures in agonizing detail the crippling feeling of uselessness that festers in a teenage bedroom when the parents are threatening to ruin lives with one more comment about how they wish you wore that shirt they love so much. There’s the breathless debate over how to approach that pretty girl at a party without being completely humiliated. There’s that moment of complete humiliation.

It’s worth noting that the kings in The Kings of Summer reign over a kingdom unplugged. They revel in late night campfires and backwoods exploration. They dig into dinner by candlelight, and they while away afternoons in cornfields and swimming holes. Cell phones play into the plan insofar as they’re useful logistically for meeting up and texting girls, but these are real life teens onscreen without screens.

Every character is deftly drawn with standout performances from – obviously – Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally (married in real life: process that) as grating, deeply embarrassing parents. The real sleeper hit here is Moises Arias as the enigmatically weird Biaggio. He’s a skilled physical comedian in a bite-size package rounding out the backwoods trio with bone-dry one-liner delivery and surprising capability at “krumping.”

A small army of Upright Citizens Brigade notables and TV fan favorites round out the cast. Mary-Lynn Rajskub and Thomas Middleditch play small town cops with deadpan seriousness befitting their stations. Alison Brie is effortless and lovely as Joe’s older sister Heather, always one eye-roll away from betraying her true feelings about the family situation.

The smart script from Chris Galletta is given a clever and artful treatment by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who inter-cuts scenes of drawn-from-reality suburban splendor with dreamy close ups and slow-motion dream sequences. Vogt-Roberts indulges teen-boy fantasy, slowing down faux charges into battle, cliff-diving, and a particularly mesmerizing sword-through-a-watermelon sequence apparently filmed using some highly advanced slow-mo technology. But perhaps the greatest strength here is in allowing teenage heroes developed voices, without stripping them of the angsty innocence that makes them believable kids.

The Kings of Summer is a classic indie darling with a stellar cast, witty script, and ultimately lovable story that makes for the perfect summer movie season opener.