January 26, 2013



TOY’S HOUSE is a delightful Sundance surprise, a fresh take on adolescent boys coming of age.  The conceit of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film, written by Chris Galletta, is that Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and a very strange tagalong named Biaggio (Moises Arias) don’t just run away, they literally find an open space in the nearby woods (albeit not as far from civilization as they initially think) and build their own full-scale house, sort of a grand, low-tech man cave.

This could easily have been the pretext for an obvious, gimmicky comedy, but Vogt-Roberts and Galletta bring spins to the material at every turn, as the boys have to master hunting, hygiene and entertainment–and most of all, togetherness.  It’s idyllic, scary and funny.  Also, the story of Joe’s home life has surprising nuance, as Joe turns out to embody most of what drives him crazy about his own father (Nick Offerman). Offerman is sensationally within his Parks & Recreation irritably lovable sweet spot, and he’s matched by Robinson and by Alison Brie as Joe’s more level-headed sister.  (It’s worth noting that the relationship between Joe and his dad here is far more believable and also funnier than the parent/child traumas in fellow Sundance comedy ACOD.)  When in doubt, the movie can always get laughs from Biaggio, a great character because his absolute strangeness is never explained or given much of a backstory–he simply is.

Toy’s House weakens a bit in its third act, as the action gets goosed forward with some forced melodrama involving the girl (Erin Morarity) both Joe and Patrick like.  But the movie recovers beautifully with a series of climaxes and reunions that really work.

In a Sundance marked by some ugly looking comedies, Toy’s House is also notable for its assured, textured look.  Cinematographer Ross Riege has made handsome use of Ohio locations, and the house itself, created by production designer Tyler B. Robinson, is a marvel that manages to look remarkably convincing as a structure teenagers who know next to nothing about construction might build and miraculously get to stand up.

Toy’s House doesn’t embark on new cinematic territory–it’s tonally similar to Stand By Me, albeit without the dead body–but it packs a great deal of genuine laughter and convincing emotion into its running time. The film has been acquired for theatrical release, and while a small-scale comedy with no major stars is difficult to promote (Son of Rambow, which admittedly had the additional hurdle of being British, disappeared at the boxoffice after a strong festival reception a few years ago), Toy’s House is sturdy enough to find an audience if it can get some traction.
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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."