by Sandra Olmsted
Good Boys nibbles at why we laugh at things we shouldn’t, and, as told by director Gene Stupnitsky, tween boys struggling to explore and understand the teenage world around and ahead of them are supposedly endearingly and amusingly profane, sex-obsessed, and naive. While some might find this escapist cinema at its best, I must resort to my mantra that I am trying to get the right audience to the right film, even if I want nothing to do with that audience. As a movie, Good Boys falls short. The plot is simplistic, and the result is that one after another, ridiculous scenarios are strung together not for coherent storytelling but merely to include every set-up for any harebrained joke — no matter how repetitive — that screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Stupnitsky found amusingly juvenile, or scatological, or salacious. That patterns pretty much holds until the last act of the movie when some more “dramatic” moments are included because this is, after all, a coming-of-age, buddy film.
When Max (Jacob Tremblay) is invited to a party where he might kiss Brixlee (Millie Davis), he turns to his best buds Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) for advice on how to learn about kissing a girl. A scheme to watch Hannah (Molly Gordon) and Lily (Midori Frances), the neighbor girls, kiss their boyfriends via a drone cam leads to a quest to get the confiscated drone back before Max’s father finds out it is gone. Max, Lucas, and Thor aka Bean Bag Boys embark on a series of misadventures, including a 10-speed bike chase, a dangerous race across a busy highway, and a paintball fight at the frat house. They also google porn, use a sex doll/CPR dummy to practice kissing, steal a jar of Ecstasy/”vitamins” to barter for the purloined drone, and deliver in drugs. The other villains, Atticus (Chance Hurstfield) and cool kid Soren (Izaac Wang), bully and mock people until they break, and they and their “gangs” attack Thor, a talented singer who dreams of musical theater. Although barely older than the Bean Bag Boys, Hannah and Lily are much more mature and “knowledgable” and serve as big sisters, evil villains, and kind babysitters. The third act provides more drama and fewer laughs, yet does show a softer side to the story and the direction, especially Lucas’ tell-all confession to his overly understanding and supportive parents.
The few other positives for Good Boys include the terrific acting, especially by the three young leads, Tremblay, Williams, and Noon; a nostalgic soundtrack, and the comedy writing and direction. After previous comments, complimenting the writing and direction probably seems contradictory; however, this is a movie of many contradictions. Stupnitsky and Eisenberg draw on their experience writing Bad Teacher and episodes of The Office to provide quickly-paced punchlines and a keen sense of what their dream audience will find funny. The leads’ good performances shouldn’t come as any surprise because Tremblay starred as Brie Larson’s son in Room; Williams was a regular on The Last Man on Earth for a year, and Noon was a regular on Boardwalk Empire for several years. The first two acts of the film include no surprises in terms of the kind of music that this audience should appreciate, including rock, rap, and funk, such as “Jungle Fever.” The final act leads up to a rendition of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” and an epilogue which sets up the question of the longevity of the boys’ friendship and the possibility of sequels inspired by Good Boys’ egregious box office take during its opening weekend.
While Good Boys is no Stand By Me, it does offer the kind of humor that is reminiscent of SuperBad and South Park, but also Beavis and Butthead and The Hangover, and therein lies the problem. Sure, funny jokes and situations abound, and maybe some adults, for whom the R rating indicates Good Boys is intended, will laugh. However, humor has the power to normalize the truly unacceptable, such as kids using foul language, discussing sex, and taking drugs. Parents should be a warning, this film should not be seen by those under 17, and I’m not entirely sold that the cutoff shouldn’t be 21. Among director Stupnitsky’s and writer Eisenberg’s “sins” are the humanizing of bullies, the sexualizing of teen and tween girls, and normalizing of sexual practices more often found in NC-17 films. In theaters now, Good Boys, a Universal Pictures release, is rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug, and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving tweens and, thankfully, runs only 89 minutes.