Children get to swear and make jokes about sex, drugs, and alcohol for about 90 minutes. Not like we haven’t seen anything like it before, right? Joking aside, it was a real concern going into Gene Stupnitsky’s directorial debut Good Boys. The trailers, while funny, have failed to make an impression and had me expecting the most generic and paint-by-numbers “children say the f-word” comedy show. I’m happy to report, however, that Good Boys stands out from the rest of the bunch as one of the better examples of its kind.
It stays true to its R-Rating for the most part, and it feels like that’s unfortunately all it is at first, but as the minutes count down, the story morphs into a wild, frenetic, and all-around balls-to-the-wall adventure that doubles as a story of 3 young boys growing into the early stages of maturity and adulthood. It definitely takes time for the film to find its footing, and can definitely overuse and repeat many of its raunchy comedic beats, but once it becomes comfortable in its own R-Rated skin, Good Boys becomes an unabashedly uninhibited and unexpectedly sweet and tender coming-of-age tale about 3 best friends who understand the personal perils of growing up.
It’s the sixth grade, and Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) having been best friends ever since kindergarten. Calling themselves “The Bean Bag Boys,” they do practically everything together, riding their bikes to school together, sitting at lunch together, and, at Max’s request, going to a cool kids’ party this weekend, where Max wishes to get his first kiss from a girl he likes. But in order to fit in with the cool kids, the boys must first learn how to kiss. From then on, our trio of misfits embark on a multitude of hijinks and misadventures as they spy on their neighbors, run across the highway, purchase AND steal drugs, and even break a few bones along the way. As they traverse these unfortunate circumstances, the boys must come to grips with one another’s differing hardships and inner struggles as their friendship is put to the test.
It can be a joy to know that, once the movie ends and you reflect on all the pandemonium and extravagance that our protagonists endured, it was all because the boys wanted to learn how to kiss. While of course there’s a lot more that goes on thematically and with each character personally, learning how to kiss is the basic backbone of the story. It relies more on the journey than the destination, and the journey is chock full of bombastic daredevil antics, run-ins with the law, and probably a broken arm. Stupnitsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg take a simple premise and are able to do a lot with it, for better and for worse.
Admittedly, as the film was trucking along, many of my fears had begun to surface. The film couldn’t stand upright with its R-Rating and felt very unfocused and inconsistent. This is especially prevalent in the first 20-30 minutes or so. The movie gets better towards the second act, but it still has some of the same problems. But not only does it have a strong ending going for it, but the ending allowed me to further reflect on everything that transpired before it, and it makes it all the better and more enjoyable. It now makes me realize that everything that happened before, all the wild adventures and treacherous terrain that the protagonists endure were warranted.
The lead protagonists are delightfully eccentric and adorable leads whose sharp and electric dynamics and chemistry make up the bulk of the great comedic beats and heartwarming moments. It is their inexperience with the adult world and its semantics, whether sexual or whatnot, where some of the funniest moments come to fruition. Jacob Tremblay’s Max is basically the alpha of the “Bean Bag Boys” and undergoes the most “adult” change in the group as he desires to kiss his middle school crush at the party. As a whole Tremblay proves once again that he’s got an admirable range of acting.
But it’s really his co-stars who steal the spotlight. Brady Noon plays the bombastic and hard-exterior Thor whose bark is worse than his bite. Thor has a rough exterior but has a soft spot for performing, as evidenced by his angelic singing voice. He has trouble fitting in with the tough, cool crowd and is always openly mocked for being a softie. Williams’ Lucas is the Bean Bag Boys’ conscience. He understands what’s right and wrong and refuses to ever tell a lie. Predictably, this gets our unlucky trio into a wide variety of trouble. Nonetheless, Lucas remains arguably the most innocent, charming, and eccentric member of the group as he attempts to steer the other two in the right direction.
The film absolutely reaches deep into the R-Rated bucket until there’s nothing left. Much of the comedy comes from the innocent naivete of our heroes as they discover the uncomfortable and far from innocent world of adulthood, where they assume sex toys are weapons, a sex doll is a CPR doll, steal marijuana from a group of teenagers, etc. Most of the jokes used rely on their delightful confusion and innocence in the presence of adult memorabilia and situations. However, as mentioned before, it really takes times for it to coalesce into something worthwhile. The first act strives to punch out all the F-bombs and sex jokes and it can feel like comedic overload (not the good kind).
It isn’t until sometime in the second act, when the kids are on their adventure, where the film finds its proper footing and starts to have fun with its adult humor. Nonetheless, the film has a tendency to repeat itself and pull from the same bucket of jokes and gags once in a while. It can also feel as though it sometimes tries to shove in our faces that this movie is Rated R and raunchy, and that can take you out of the experience a little. But again, for the most part, the movie works on its own, and there are plenty of moments that’ll have you tearing up.
As mentioned before, with their quest being to learn how to kiss, we get plenty of the hilarious antics and laugh-out-loud jokes we were expecting, and for the most part, they work. But we also get an surprisingly mature and tender exploration about growing up, but not in the way we expect. It delves into what defines friendship and companionship and how each and every one of us has different paths and different desires. In between all the drug dealing and sex jokes, there’s a story about finding your place in the world, about growing up in a world you don’t feel a part of, except unlike in previous iterations of the same message, we get it from the perspective of children, or tweens as they prefer to be called.
Like any other coming-of-age movie, there’s going to be a big moment of conflict between our heroes. Usually, we envision anger and insults and so forth, and we do get that. But the difference here is, especially with how the scene ends, it reflects the immaturity and childlike innocence they all possess. They go through a lot of stuff, and I mean A LOT of stuff, but they’re still children in the end. It’s a surprisingly endearing take on a coming-of-age story and one that fits well within the confines of its brash, foul-mouthed humor.
Good Boys stands tall with its raunchy humor and wildly ludicrous antics while maintaining an unexpected but welcome examination of adulthood, growing up, and friendship. A lot of the humor can feel redundant and repetitive, and the first act fails to adequately balance its humor with the rest of the story, but Max, Thor, and Lucas make for a wonderfully dynamic trio who stick the landing on many of the story’s comedic bits and tender lessons, making it an imperfect, but nonetheless fun journey through prepubescence.