Synopsis: Three sixth-grade boys — Max, Thor and Lucas — are best friends who want the good times to keep rolling forever, but are soon thrust into a world they’re not ready for when they get the chance to go to their first kissing party. In trying to learn all about kissing so they don’t look like little kids they lose Max’s dad’s precious drone and set out on a crazy journey to replace it before he comes home, lest the prison of being grounded ruin their party chances for good.
Review: What’s lucky for the R-rated comedy GOOD BOYS is that the concept of sixth-graders being trapped in a Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg-produced movie – firing off obscenities and sexual innuendo without having any idea what they’re saying actually means – is a perfect fit for an undemanding 85-minute comedy that crams in as many innocently profane gags as possible. If it wasn’t for the comedy working so well, all coming from three perfectly cast and undeniably adorable and hilarious young leads, the movie would crumble under the weight of a story that isn’t nearly as emotionally profound as it thinks it is, trying to mine the same kind of depth out of similar movies while forgetting that it’s primarily dealing with middle-schoolers saying “f**k” too much.
Our story centers on three young, foul-mouthed, but sweet lads named Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams), who ride around town on their bikes and go by the name the Beanbag Boys because, well, they each have beanbags to hang out on. Soon they have a chance to do some real grown-up stuff and attend their first kissing party, but in an attempt to learn how to kiss they lose Max’s dad’s expensive drone, setting them on a wild chase to get a new one so he doesn’t get grounded, and thus forever losing his chance to kiss the girl he loves.
Much like movies like SUPERBAD (also from producers Rogen and Goldberg) and this year’s excellent BOOKSMART, all of this takes place across only a day or so, sending our young heroes on a journey that provides enough clever, R-rated bits and scenarios to make this an eternal sleepover comedy classic for young viewers. Yeah, the joke where young kids say nasty stuff sounds like it could get old now and again, but it’s the endearing, committed work of the three leads that constantly sells every bit. Just when you think you’ve heard enough of 12-year-olds not knowing what certain adult words mean, one of them whips out a pair of anal beads and tries to do kung-fu with them, or delivers a crass line with the timing and brazen confidence of the older comedians who carved out this path before them. Never a moment goes by without at least one of the three being on screen, and all three have the charm, commitment and potty-mouths to more than capably carry each scene like comedy stars in the making.
But what works best about all the crassness and shock is that, at the core, there is a tender relatability to how these characters talk to each other and interact with the world around them. Some kids mature more quickly than others, especially now having access to everything in the world through the internet, but there’s something endlessly charming about these three awkwardly trying to navigate adult scenarios, like trying to deal with a cop as they try to smuggle beer or handle what is essentially a drug deal on the playground. But even the daunting task of trying to talk to the more popular kids at school gets a comedy treatment, mixing in what will ring as nostalgic for the older audience. Writers Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky (who also directs) never forget that at the core of the movie needs to be three boys who are not vulgar or get themselves into hijinks because they’re mischievous brats, but rather they’re truly good boys dealing with matters far beyond their age and height.
The story addresses some key issues that will no doubt plague all young people at some point, and each of the three has their young people problems that hint they’re lives aren’t always going to be bike riding and game-playing. These include Thor dealing with unsavory nicknames, and Max figuring out how to tell a girl how he really feels, and are all handled through that childlike lens of thinking everything that happens in middle school will affect them for the rest of their lives. Oh, to be young and think the girl you have a crush on is destined to be your wife, and to deal with the fear of being labeled a “baby” well into your adult years.
While the movie tries to tackle some genuine themes that pervade adolescent life, like peer pressure, bullying, childhood romance, divorce and more, many of those themes get lost in the mad shuffle of pushing the kids from one lewd scenario to the next. For instance, Lucas, the sweetest and most good-natured of the boys, is dealing with the divorce of his parents, but rather than get a chance to explore that through his friendship and the scenario he just gets to go along for the ride. In doing so he brings to the trio a voice of reason and an adorable, hilarious sense of honesty, confessing to his parents all the crazy stuff they did while other kids would’ve found ways to lie.
That aspect is a key example in how GOOD BOYS — despite wanting to explore some deeper messages — is so eager to get these boys into crazy/cute hijinks that it never finds a way to explore them in meaningful ways. Come the third act these more thoughtful themes about growing up start to come to light, but the problem is the earlier parts stick so closely to the simple pleasures of putting these boys in one wild scenario after another, that it all rings a bit hollow. Even the story itself gets cloudy in the chaos, with the aspect pertaining to the kissing party getting buried under the quest for a new drone. If not for the text updates Max occasionally gets it would be a marvel to even remember that was a key part of the story at all.
By the movie’s conclusion, when the boys are faced with the reality that maybe they have to start going their separate ways as they start to grow up, it can’t help but feel unearned and unnecessary. For similar movies set in high school, it makes sense to take this approach, as going from school and into full adulthood offers a lot to unpack. But we’re dealing with middle schoolers here, so when the movie tries to handle similar, weighty themes during the conclusion it almost feels like satire, as if the team behind the movie is further making fun of the idea that kids at that age may take everything a bit too seriously, not knowing that they can indeed all remain friends despite their changes. And yet, it’s treated with full earnestness, so when they show up at an after-party for the school musical, each demonstrating how much they’ve grown in the last month, it’s so silly a visual it can’t but feel like another gag and less like a sweet, profound moment everyone may have been going for. If that satire is indeed the entire point, then the gags are really all this movie has going for it, with any opportunities for genuine, surprising emotion abandoned in the pursuit of silliness.
But, alas, I may be trying to gather too much from the approach. As I said at the start, this is a movie that was perhaps pitched and sold solely on the premise that middle schoolers would be starring in the kind of profane comedy Rogen, Jonah Hill and James Franco would. Going into the movie wanting that, you’ll get more than enough laughs, even if the premise may start to wear thin after a bit, only for the gags to get a second wind and keep the train chugging. That bombardment of playful profanity was mostly enough for me, and even though the humor is pushed so hard that is masks attempts to get into the thoughtful messages that are ever so slightly present, this will certainly be a movie tweens will be watching in secret from their parents for years to come.