Good Boys (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
For those not put off by the content and/or rating, Good Boys is amusing at worst, laugh-out-loud funny at best, and lands on a sweet, insightful message. But this thing more than earns its R rating minutes, if not seconds, after it begins.
Something of an odd couple, the trio of Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon will win your heart, if you can stick with this movie all the way through, and really are great together.
You will cringe. You will be embarrassed. You will likely wonder just who this is made for and then probably question if this is truly what life is like for kids in middle school nowadays. And chances are, along the way, something will speak to your middle school experience. Some moments work really well in Good Boys.
This is absolutely, 100%, not a movie to blindly send your kids to go see. Well…unless they have smartphones and their use of those devices goes unchecked by you. If that’s the case, largely nothing will surprise them here in terms of the sex-related humor, drug references, and the various themes thrown around the encounters these boys experience along the way.
Who is this made for exactly?
People who find profane, vulgar humor off-putting are really not going to like it being delivered by, and coming at the expense of, the naïveté of 12-year-old boys.
I don’t quite know what to make of Good Boys, a vulgar, sweet-natured, profane, but endearing comedy about three 12-year-old sixth grade boys who decide to skip school on a Friday, in the hopes of returning a drone that was seized by two teenage neighbor girls they were trying to spy on.
Good Boys has far more bark than bite when it comes to how edgy or cocksure it thinks it is. At times, especially in a monotonous opening 20-25 minutes, you just want to pat the filmmakers on the back and say, “Look guys, it’s okay, I get it. Kids playing naively with sex toys look funny. Boys trying to kiss a sex doll they believe is a CPR doll feels hilarious. You’ve really tried here. Let’s just move this along now.”
Once the screenplay, co-written by “The Office” scripters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (also making his directorial debut), stops trying to shock us every minute or two and actually digs into the characters and the sixth-grade swamp these boys awkwardly splash around in, Good Boys finds its voice, its heart, and becomes a sweet-tempered curiosity that has a few rather keen observations and takeaways.
That premise above is only really part of what unfolds along the way. The best friends, self-anointed as The Bean Bag Boys, consists of Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon). Just weeks into their sixth grade year, Max’s dad (Will Forte) is headed out for a business trip. Thor is amped to audition for the school musical (“Rock of Ages” no less), and Lucas is rocked with news that his parents (Lil Rel Howery, Retta) are getting a divorce.
Max is crushing big-time on Brixlee (Millie Davis), while Thor is nervous that he will not be cool, antagonized by Atticus (Chance Hurstfield), the leader of the Scooter Squad and representative of the most popular kids in school. The kids exist in a state of constant worry - they will be forced to try drugs, they will have to give in to peer pressure, they will have to do so many things they don’t want to do, just to fit in.
Seriously, the amount of anxiety these kids express to and with one another should make a school counselor, therapist, or engaged parent’s head spin. I mean, what are we doing to kids nowadays?
But I digress.
After successfully swigging sips of beer in a challenge from Atticus, Max is personally invited to his first “kissing party” by popular kid Soren (Izaac Wang). Nervous over his first boy/girl party, he learns Brixlee will be there, and then a convoluted situation develops involving the aforementioned drone, which Max is forbidden to touch and does anyway, a truth-or-dare of sorts involving a drug deal, a Craigslist-style posting used to raise some money, and so on and so on.
This is little more than a cavalcade of silly set-ups allowing the boys to riff and cut down one another in exhausted exasperation. What eventually emerges is a genial nature and believable friendship, as the boys convey a bond that makes it easy for us to cheer them to success.
Tremblay and Williams shine, with Noon providing the faux-tough guy persona as a nice complement to the knee-jerk anxieties of Max and the rule-following rigidity Lucas swears by. That any moral consideration exists here at all is a plus. And that Stupnitsky and Steinberg steer us towards a rather bittersweet final act, that somehow feels genuine and earned, even with all the raunchiness that comes before it, allows Good Boys to feel like a better movie than it probably has any right to be.
Max seems always emotionally and physically tired, between his frequent encouragement to his friends and his outlandish reactions to any problem presented before them. Thor is pretty much a mess - unstable and unsure where he fits, saddled with a disparaging nickname, and afraid of how he looks among his peers. Lucas tries to be the voice of reason, always, and trusts that will be the path he follows to stay happy.
Later scenes, where the trio realize they are growing up and may eventually grow apart, prove surprisingly effective and emotional.
Then again, this is a movie where, despite the kids routinely dropping all kinds of correctly-used curse words and vulgar expressions, and being knowledgeable about many of the things boys and girls come to realize in their adolescence, they somehow don’t know how to pronounce the word “anal” and have no idea that a bank of weapons they are using to defend themselves are actually sex toys from a parent’s bedroom.
As fantastical and over-the-top as this is, I have to believe that if (and when) that PG-13 aged crowd catches up to Good Boys, the rampant sex jokes, drug references, and explicit content will probably roll right off most of their backs.
I wish the film had a position on that: How desensitized kids are to most things nowadays, yet remain worried about a whole lot of things previous generations never really had to think about.
But Good Boys is trying to be all about the laughs. And there’s just enough of them, and a nice final act that puts the boys’ friendship first for once, that allows a passive recommendation to discerning audiences.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Izaac Wang, Millie Davis, Josh Caras, Will Forte, Lil Rel Howery, Retta, Chance Hurstfield, Michaela Watkins, Matt Ellis, Lina Renna.
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Written by: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky
Release Date: August 16, 2019