Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has been on the indie comedy radar for a while and he’s been on mine since his short Successful Alcoholics back in 2010. Not only is it a hilarious exploration of a couple that can sling back shots and still find success, but it’s also quite serious. Balancing drunkenness and sobriety and ultimately comedy and drama isn’t an easy task. In Toy’s House, Vogt-Roberts’ debut feature film, he explores youth and adulthood. And like his past work, he ping-pongs back and forth between the two. It’s a sidesplitting, heart-melting coming of age adventure.
When I attended the premiere at Sundance 2013, the Library Center Theattre was a riot. Familiar faces like Megan Mullally, Allison Brie and even Will Smith packed into the room. I sat next to some jokesters who gave me a hard time for smacking them in the face with my coat. I liked this crowd already. And the atmosphere of the attendees was right on the nose. Unlike many of the other films at the festival, Toy’s House was ready to throw a party.
Our main man is Joe Toy, played by the sure-rising-star Nick Robinson. He’s s string-bean adolescent on the verge of manhood while still possessing a charming immaturity. He’s sick of his sad dad Frank (Nick Offerman) always sticking his nose in his business. Most all of us hated our parents at that age. His best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) can’t stand his folks either. Pitch-perfect Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson smother their son Patrick with packed lunches and never-ending chatter.
When Joe’s crush Kelly (Erin Moriarity) invites him to a party in the woods one night, he’s starting to feel she might really like him. But the party is soon broken up and Joe is forced to navigate his way back home. In the dark, accompanied by a strange kid named Biaggio (Moises Arias) who he just met, he stumbles upon an open clearing. This is it. It’s the haven he’s been looking for.
Before too long, Joe has assembled Patrick and Biaggio to built a house there. They steal some cash, wood and a porter-potty door from a construction site. Soon enough their abode is built. And it’s actually quite impressive. The boys are free and set forth to live in the wild; they even hunt for their own food! And then decide Boston Market is all-natural enough.
But living on their own poses consequences. When Kelly comes back into the picture, her feminine ways disrupt the boy’s serene set-up. Their parents are also worried, although assured it’s not a kidnapping case but rather a runaway. Frank begins to question his skills as a father. He asks his daughter Heather (Allison Brie), “Am I a bastard?” Her reply is grim.
But Chris Galletta’s screenplay, which was his college thesis, doesn’t dwell in the dramatic for too long. Just in a moment when your heartstrings are pulled, we see Biaggio crack a joke or Frank deliver his classic dry humor. Nothing stays serious for too long. Vogt-Roberts finds the funny in both family and friend dynamics. The people you laugh with the most are often the ones you fight with the hardest. He also taps into the generation who grew up with The Goonies and Stand By Me, naming them as some of his influences at the premiere’s Q&A. But Vogt-Roberts evolves these cult classics, packing his film with modern day humor. It’s Parks and Recreation meets The Sandlot meets Terrence Malick. It’s a distinct voice and it definitely captures your attention.
Often comedy films overdose on the jokes and by the end, you’re plain out exhausted or just plainly uninterested. But Toy’s House could’ve gone on for another hour and I’d still be game. You hope that these boys find their manhood, but also remember the time when you were also in a hurry to grow up. And then, you urge them to stay young. When a filmmaker comes along who is able to find that relatability in his story and also thoroughly entertain his audience, it’s incredibly exciting.
Toy’s House was acquired by CBS Films just days after it’s premiere. Domestic release date is TBD.