Element 2: Mix a dash of drama with a lot of levity
Recent example: "(500) Days of Summer" (2009), which could have been a tragedy about heartbreak if it weren't for a song-and-dance number and other amusing interludes.
Maybe it's the long hours of daylight or impending vacations, but summer months somehow become linked with our optimistic pursuit of happiness. The movie releases generally follow suit. A dark drama with political overtones can wait until later in the year, when Oscar chatter starts heating up. Summer sleeper hits carefully balance solemnity with laughter.
There is drama in Chris Galletta's script for "The Kings of Summer," especially when it comes to the combative interactions between Robinson's character and his single father, played by Offerman.
"I haven't had the chance to play a lot of emotional roles where I get to have a relationship evolve over an arc over the course of a film," Offerman said.
Audiences may recognize the universal difficulties of navigating that agonizing period known as adolescence. And yet for all the film's calamities, including unrequited love and broken friendships, there's a sense of grand possibility.
"I can remember that feeling of unlimited potential and that excitement of: What is the world going to bring to me? And what am I going to bring to the world?" Mullally said.
While pre-adulthood can prove painful, it's also ripe for jokes, especially the parent-child interactions. Basso's character ends up with hives because of constant nagging from his mother, played by Mullally.
"Why do I need to micromanage what shirt he's wearing?" she said. "And yet it's so true."
Adds Basso: "Rarely do I laugh reading a comedy script, but this one was unique."
Another 2013 sleeper: Actress Lake Bell makes her writing and directing debut with "In a World . . .," a film that also mines familial relations for laughs. Bell plays a voice coach who can never live up to her father, the king of movie trailer voiceovers. (Opens Aug. 9)
Element 3: Fill the cast with scene-stealers
Recent example: "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006), in which each of the character actors (including Collette, Carell, Paul Dano, Greg Kinnear and Alan Arkin) contributed memorable scenes of humor and pathos.
Summer sleeper hits might be devoid of the highest-paid stars, but they are often elevated by an ensemble of actors that seem optimally cast.
"Kings" draws from a pool of television stars and character actors, including the hilarious real-life husband-and-wife team of Offerman, whose character Ron Swanson from "Parks and Recreation" has his own cult following, and Mullally.
"Community" star Alison Brie and Basso, from "The Big C," play larger roles, and there is also a long list of indelible cameos. Mary Lynn Rajskub ("24") plays a bumbling police officer trying (but not too hard) to find the boys and Kumail Nanjiani ("Franklin & Bash") plays a Chinese food deliveryman whose "American name is Gary."
"I think [the cameos] kind of send the movie into a different stratosphere," Mullally said. "You have that level of comedy combined so seamlessly with the sort of lyrical quality of other parts of the movie."
Adds Offerman: "Every single person we had to work with was the funniest person I'd ever met, and that was such a smart move on [Vogt-Roberts'] part."
Another 2013 potential sleeper: "The Spectacular Now" stars up-and-comers Miles Teller, who was a stand-out in the otherwise forgettable "21 & Over," and Shailene Woodley (who wowed in "The Descendants") as two high school seniors that run with different crowds and strike up an unlikely friendship. The pair won an acting award when the film premiered at Sundance. (Opens Aug. 9)
Element 4: Pinpoint the next big thing