Sundance 2013 Review: Shack Up with ‘Toy’s House,’ A New Kind of Coming-Of-Age Story

By  · Published on January 25th, 2013

Sharp-tongued Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is frustrated with his life – his overbearing father (Nick Offerman) does not understand him, his older sister Heather (Alison Brie) no longer lives at home, and he cannot seem to get a minute to himself without someone barging in on him. Joe is not alone in his frustration, his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is also feeling trapped with two helicopter parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) who are constantly bombarding him with inane questions. The two boys want (need) to get out, and Joe comes up with a plan to let them do just that.

After escaping a party that was suddenly broken up, Joe finds himself lost in the woods alongside the very strange (but insanely funny) Biaggio (Moises Arias.) The two happen upon a secluded section of the forrest and as Joe looks around at the lush landscape, inspiration strikes and he rushes home to tell Patrick he has a solution to their problems – they are going to build their own house to live in.

Patrick is wary at first having never lived away from home, let alone deep in the woods, but with his hives (which he blames on his parents) getting worse, he finally agrees. The boys pull together random scraps of wood and other found items, along with Joe’s father’s stolen tools, and set to work. They are joined by Biaggio and when Patrick asks why he is being included in their secret house building, Joe simply states that Biaggio (who is also wielding a machete) just showed up and he wasn’t sure what would happen if he sent him away. The boys set to work, ready to live on their own and off the land, but when Joe ventures back into civilization to invite his crush, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), to dinner at his new house, things start to get complicated.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts gives audiences a new look at the classic coming-of-age story through Toy’s House, which is full of random laughs and relatable moments of boys who desperately want to be men, and girls who begin to complicate their otherwise easy friendships. Vogt-Roberts has filled Toy’s House with an impressive young cast, particularly Robinson who commands the screen as Joe, a boy who is equal parts mature and naive, someone on the cusp of becoming a man, but not quite yet there. Chris Galletta creates a script that is more funny than dramatic, but when the more dramatic moments do hit, they help balance out the bigger laughs. The narrative comes slightly apart towards the end, dragging things along rather than speeding up to the climax, but even in these slower moments, Robinson’s performance a highlight, punctuated with hilarious one-liners from Arias’ Biaggio.

Toy’s House certainly delivers the funny, but does so alongside affecting performances from its young cast. From the music to the jokes to the emotions, Galletta and Vogt-Roberts deliver a fully realized vision that those coming-of-age and those who already have should find enjoyable.

The Upside: Solid performances from the entire cast; a new take to the coming-of-age genre; funny one-liners (which I cannot stop quoting); energizing music placement that adds to the film’s youthful feel.

The Downside: Story could have been tightened up a bit more towards the end to keep up the energy established in the first two acts.

On the Side: Vogt-Roberts has a unique sense of humor that can also be seen in the Comedy Central show Mash Up.