Sundance '13: Vogt-Roberts' 'Toy's House' is Coming-of-Age Refreshed
by Alex Billington
January 31, 2013
At the Sundance Film Festival, coming-of-age comedies are almost a dime a dozen. So the really good ones, the ones that refresh, redefine, reinvent the genre, need to really stand out and really exceed in many ways. Another one at the 2013 festival that definitely hit those marks is Jordan Vogt-Roberts's Toy's House, from a screenplay written by Chris Galletta. It's one of those films that I'd already heard great buzz about, mostly due to comparisons to Superbad meets Stand By Me (e.g. Erik Davis' review), which is some kind of crazy high praise that it pretty much lives up to. But, remarkably, Toy's House really is that great of a film.
The movie introduces us to Joe Toy, played by Nick Robinson, a high school teen fed up with his single father's (played by Nick Offerman) nagging. So he enlists the help of his friend Patrick, played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8), and tagalong weirdo Biaggio, played by newcomer Moises Arias, and they discover a clear spot in the nearby woods and decide to build a house and live there away from their families. It's the ultimate boy's-escape movie, the kind every single boy has at one point dreamt of doing in their youth. The best part about seeing this story, is that the script is filled with all kinds of perfect humor to go along with all this fun, like giant swords out of nowhere, and Biaggio always taking things to the next level of wacky.
The reason it gets the Superbad comparison is because this really is Biaggio's "McLovin" role. Whoever this kid is, Moises Arias (also playing Bonzo is Ender's Game), he's defining himself in what will be a break out but is also an insanely weird character fit for this film. Toy's House is also able to keep the story fresh by continuing to push the story beyond just building a house in the woods. That happens quick then, of course, a girl get into the mix and screws things up. Always. Especially in coming-of-age. But it's not such an easy guy-gets-girl and that's-that story, they take interesting turns that I liked. And it was still funny at the end.
In addition to the script being spectacular, Toy House's is a refreshing contemporary coming-of-age drama thanks to director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. It's the perfect film for the YouTube generation, and I mean that in a good way. There are quite a few interesting shots that are almost added for the sake of space or just to make things interesting. There's even a whole section of slow-motion (another day of fun with a Phantom?) gratuitous giant-sword-slicing-fruit shots, which just seems tossed in to remind everyone that they can keep our attention with some modern absurdity for a few minutes while they wait for the hours to pass at their definitely-wouldn't-pass-inspection outdoor shack. Stylistic, yes, but it also works great as entertainment.
I can't help but say I had a damn good time watching Toy's House, it's another impressive Sundance feature debut for up-and-coming director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. On one hand, it has a mainstream mass-audience appeal, characters that are easy to like and will likely become cult classic once its released, but also has a strong indie sensibility with a good message and great soundtrack. There's so much from the film I wanted to see turned into a marketing gimmick. For example - build that dang house somewhere! But since that might be a little tough, at least make collectible maps like the ones they have. I loved the world they built.
I'm so glad I caught Toy's House, as it ended up being one of my favorites coming out of the festival that I honestly can't wait to see open in theaters, because it's just so much fun. I even had to go searching for the music they used in the soundtrack because I enjoyed it so damn much. The film has a refreshingly unique blend of contemporary humor, strong characters, an intriguing but fun story and pure juvenile cinematic entertainment. One of the best coming-of-age films coming out of Sundance this year that has a chance to break out big with the right audience. Biaggio will likely become a household name, for good reason, too.
Alex's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10