Good Boys has, since its initial trailer landed, been touted as Superbad with younger kids. A film that uses comedy to address an awkward transition in life. Here it’s the movement from childhood to teenager instead of teenager to adulthood. It’s this shift in ages is what makes Good Boys unique and hilarious and deceptively touching, just like Superbad was when it landed years ago. It’s a coming-of-age story told about an age that doesn’t get covered all that often in adult movies, and when it does is usually handled with kid gloves.
What Good Boys does is take the raunchy comedy of the modern teenage coming-of-age story and apply it to a kids adventure film like Goonies. That’s a really risky movie, given how horribly wrong putting children in adult situations can go in comedies, but that’s just it: Good Boys doesn’t expect its kids to be adults, its expects them to be kids and that makes all the difference.
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Release Date: August 16, 2019
Initially, when writing this review, I had this paragraph at the ending because that’s just how it flowed out when I was writing, but in re-reading I’ve moved it up here because this is a comedy and letting you know that it is truly one of the funniest films I’ve seen in years should come first and foremost. Nearly every joke works and when they don’t our three leads are strong enough to force it to. It is lose-your-breath-laughing funny and the sex jokes never feel forced or out of place. The film moves seamlessly from one set up to the next and veers wonderfully from different gags. Surprisingly, the best jokes come not from the raunchy humor and more from clever dialog and fantastic delivery. If you are simply looking to laugh there’s no better way to do it in theaters.
The movie, at its core, is less raunchy comedy and more childhood adventure — think 80s Spielberg kids movies but with the drug Molly. Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon) are three childhood best friends who refer to themselves as The Beanbag Boys (because they have beanbag chairs). They are entering the dreaded middle school years and as such are now, clearly, adults. However, when Max is invited to a kissing party and convinces the cool kids to also invite Lucas and Thor, the three find themselves struggling to know how to kiss. When the Internet fails them they decide to use Max’s dad’s drone to spy on their “nymphomaniac” teenage neighbor. Of course, the drone gets destroyed and the three concoct an ever more daring plan to get to the mall (4 miles away!) so they can buy a new drone all while running from the two teenage girls they were spying on and facing a variety of challenges only tweenagers have.
There’s an increasing trend in film to make a young kid the kind of moral/comedic grounding for a flailing parental figure who is acting more like a child. We routinely see 12-year-olds espousing life advice they have no business talking about or being put into raunchy comedic situations that feel more awkward than humorous. It’s not a good look and it makes the comedy uncomfortable and sometimes pushes it too far. Good Boys avoids this almost completely, despite being full of sex toys and drugs, by keeping its three protagonists as children, not prescient wunderkinds. It makes the raunchy jokes, sexual misunderstandings, and churlish behavior hilarious without that uncomfortable tinge of putting child actors into inappropriate situations.
There’s a level of innocence here that’s a little hard to believe. These 12-year-olds have never tried to look at pornography and don’t know how to kiss? It is, however, that innocence that makes the film work. The absurdity of their lack of knowledge taken to the extreme so that the true confusion of that age that we’ve all felt can come through. Yes, these three boys are probably a little too naive for reality as they mistake dildos for weapons and anal beads for a necklace, but it only makes the coming-of-age metaphor all the more relatable as the film’s true center is that horrendous shift from childhood to teenager, where everything you thought you knew changes.
It is a surprisingly emotional film too. What director and co-writer Gene Stupnitsky never seems to forget is that these are kids still. He treats them as such, allowing them to cry like children at points and struggle through emotional issues with the aptitude of a person whose biggest issues to this date have centered around losing at a knock-off Magic the Gathering card game. It is a surprisingly honest take that, in between the comedy, strikes dead center in the emotions for any boy who grew up. Yet it doesn’t pander to tired norms of what men should grow up to be, instead embracing a healthier masculinity and diversity in its treatment of boyhood. There’s even a running “joke” about asking for consent that handles the issue better than most adult films.
Good Boys is a funny film, but it’s also a good one. That isn’t always a combination you find. It’s more winning aspect, however, is its ability to dive into the childhood coming-of-age genre and upend it through lewd jokes and good storytelling. There’s plenty of laughs, of course, but the real secret is that beneath them is a story about growing up that hits just as hard.