This is the kind of American independent comedy-drama that restores our faith in the cinema, combining a talented cast, witty direction and a razor-sharp script to reboot the coming-of-age genre. It's an original approach that completely wins us over; even the film's slightly too-wacky touches are genuinely hilarious. And it's all grounded in realistic characters we can identify with, especially when they're in amusingly awkward situations.
The story centres on Joe (Robinson), a teen who is fed up with the way his widowed father Frank (Offerman) takes out his grief on anyone at hand. Joe's sister (Brie) has already escaped, moving in with her goofy boyfriend (Cordero), and now that school has let out for the summer, Joe decides to build a bolt-hole in the woods. He finds a collaborator in his best pal Patrick (Basso), whose inane parents (Mullally and Jackson) are so annoying that he has broken out in hives. Then Biaggio (Arias), a strange kid no one really knows, joins them to build a secret cabin where no one can find them. And they love this independent lifestyle so much that they never want summer to end.
Along the way, the film takes a wonderfully honest look at the horrors of adolescence. Joe's and Patrick's parents always say the most embarrassing things imaginable, so getting away from them is like a blast of freedom. And there's a very strong female lead in Kelly (Moriarty), the girl Joe fantasises about even though she has eyes for other boys. Robinson and Basso are excellent in the lead roles, playing characters we can easily identify with and root for. Arias is hilarious as the rather ridiculous Biaggio, making the most of a role that's perhaps the film's only false note: he's just too nutty to be believable.
Meanwhile, the adept adult cast shamelessly steal scenes from each other. Offerman is a bundle of insecurities counterbalanced by dead-on comical timing. And Mullally and Jackson deliver their outrageously funny dialog with a straight face. All of this helps director Vogt-Roberts balance the youthful comedy and some silly farce with much darker drama, including a rough path to romance. And the woodland setting provides some gorgeous scenery as well as a dreamy atmosphere in which the boys' inner thoughts can come to life in cleverly animated ways. It's also one of those rare movies that keeps us laughing even as we feel the strong emotional kick.