A full-on fairy tale that could win plenty of friends with its absurdist, caustically funny take on adolescent agitation.
Although it acknowledges that a real world may, in fact, exist, “Toy’s House,” Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ debut feature, is a full-on fairy tale, and one that could win plenty of friends with its absurdist, caustically funny take on adolescent agitation. The fantastical premise is far-fetched — three pals, sick of their parents, build their own house in the woods and learn, with no lasting damage, how not to survive — but nothing else in Chris Galletta’s script can be taken too seriously, either. Still, there are enough laughs and bright performances that neither viewers nor distribs will likely mind.
Anyone who’s been a teenager will see that Joe Toy (Nick Robertson) is being driven mad by his widowed father, Frank (Nick Offerman, “Parks & Recreation”), who has apparently forgotten how excruciating it might be for an adolescent boy to have his father tell the girl he loves (Kelly, played by Erin Moriarty) that he can’t talk now, because he’s grounded and has to go to bed at 7:30.
But Frank is too likable (Offerman’s grumpiness is quite charming) to provoke so much unrest that Joe would really want to live in the woods. The family unit is slightly dysfunctional, but affectionate: Frank even tolerates Colin (Eugene Cordero), the painfully inappropriate boyfriend of daughter Heather (a terrific Alison Brie). And he doesn’t get that mad when Joe scares off Frank’s own new girlfriend (Gillian Vigman).
A better motivation exists for Joe’s best friend, Patrick (Gabriel Basso), whose noodgy parents (Megan Mullally, Marc Evan Jackson) would test the patience of the Dalai Lama. When Joe finds a pristine spot in the woods near their suburban enclave, he decides that he, Patrick and their strange little non sequitur-spouting friend Biaggio (Moises Arias) will all leave home, build their own house, become men and live in the woods. Patrick and Biaggio agree. Luckily, there’s a Boston Market nearby.
Vogt-Roberts, who has worked mainly in TV (“Mash Up,” “Funny or Die,” “Single Dads”), also made the very smart short film “Successful Alcoholics” in 2010. Like a lot of television comedy, “Toy’s House” is much more interested in the laughs that can be mined from character rather than plot. Galletta’s script, Vogt-Roberts’ direction and the distinctive play of the actors, notably Offerman and Mullally, lets the viewer know who everyone is right away, and the gag lines flow.
Belief, of course, has to be suspended. The spot the boys live in can’t be more than a mile or two from their homes; the most incompetent police officer, like the one played by the reliable Mary Lynn Rajskub, would find these kids in about an hour. Their friends even come to visit them — including Kelly, who makes a play for Patrick, thus sending Joe and their friendship over the edge.
While a movie with the straining-for-wordplay title of “Toy’s House” isn’t even pretending to be serious, the film has real visual chops; at the beginning, the camera movement, the unusual framing and the editing suggest the untidy workings of an unstructured adolescent mind. Later, matters turn a bit grimmer, but not so much as to totally wreck the mood.
Tech credits are tops, with Ross Riege’s lensing well supported by Ryan Putz, Marlowe Taylor and William McGuigan’s soundwork.