Sundance '13 Review: Escape to the Woods With Wonderful TOY'S HOUSE
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenwriter: Chris Galletta
Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Official Synopsis: Joe Toy, on the verge of adolescence, finds himself increasingly frustrated by his single father, Frank’s, attempts to manage his life. Declaring his freedom once and for all, he escapes to a clearing in the woods with his best friend, Patrick, and a strange kid named Biaggio and announces that they are going to build a house there—free from responsibility and parents. Once their makeshift abode is finished, the three young men find themselves masters of their own destiny, alone in the woods.
It's possible Toy's House could catch your eye based on the cast full of comedic TV actors: Nick Offerman, Alison Brie, Megan Mullally, and even "24" star Mary Lynn Rajskub make small appearances. They're all good and fun to watch, but the film really belongs to the three young male leads. Nick Robinson plays Joe, a typical high schooler who's fed up with his dad's BS, so he grabs his best friend Patrick, played by Gabriel Basso, and decides to build a house in the middle of a clearing in the woods. Robinson has a great everyman quality to him - not nerdy, but not that memorable - and he runs the gamut of emotions from frustration to elation to heartbreak and back all while staying grounded and believable. Basso's Patrick is coddled by his overprotective parents, so he's along for the ride and becomes embroiled in a love triangle with Erin Moriarty's character Kelly that feels genuine and somehow inevitable at the same time.
Offerman is hysterical as Joe's sarcastic single father, and his real life wife Mullally is equally funny as one of Patrick's fussy parents. Brie and Rajskub don't get much screen time, but they do some solid work as well. But most of the film's comedy comes from one character: a bizarre kid named Biaggio, played wonderfully by Moises Arias. Biaggio definitely has some form of Asperger's, and he spends the film popping up in unexpected places, painting himself to look like a tree, and generally cracking everyone up with his weird antics. (He's reminscent of Abed from "Community.") He anchors a lot of the movie's biggest laughs, but also brings a heart to the part that could have easily been lost in the "gimmick" by a less skilled actor.
Story and Direction
Chris Galletta's script was the funniest at this year's festival, even moreso than Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's The Way, Way Back. Every character is fully fleshed out, the plot points feel natural (except for the fact that these kids actually build a kick-ass house, which probably wouldn't have actually happened in real life), and the comedy comes so quickly that you barely have time to finish laughing from one joke when you start laughing at the next.
It isn't all fun and games, though. Vogt-Roberts does a great job of blending a serious undercurrent through the movie, giving it some real life and death stakes, and even touching on some interesting male/female dynamics in the process. After all, this is a movie about three boys going off in the woods who try to become men, but while some of this movie feels like a traditional coming-of-age story, it's so well executed that the more familiar aspects don't matter as much. Toy's House is an instant classic, a comedic story that kids can learn from, and a movie that will likely hold up as a twist on a modern version of an Amblin movie. They don't make 'em like this anymore, and that's why this is one of the best movies of Sundance 2013.
It's like Stand By Me with a dash of Mud and a hint of Into the Wild, but funnier than all three combined.
Chances You'll See It In Theaters
Really good, because it was just purchased by CBS Films. No release date is set yet, but this is one you don't want to miss.