Updated: Feb 9, 2020
I do not like using movies to describe other movies. It is generally hard to make an exact one-to-one comparison and dismisses nuances in story and filmmaking. Good Boys makes it really easy, so I am going to do it anyway. The high-concept pitch for it would be “Superbad with twelve year-olds.” That short description is shockingly accurate. Three boys go on a series of ridiculous adventures while trying to get to a party that could change their lives. Despite the obviousness of its inspiration, it is consistently funny and kind of sweet. It is not a great comedy, but it is hilarious.
Max, Thor and Lucas are best friends entering the scary world of sixth grade. Max is newly interested in girls, Thor wants to be seen as mature and Lucas is perfectly happy with the way things are. Then, they get invited to a kissing party by the coolest kid in school, a party Max’s crush will be at. Their initially innocent quest to learn how to kiss before the party leads them into increasingly absurd situations that test their friendship.
Make no mistake: even though Good Boys is about kids, it is most definitely not for kids. It is very vulgar, with tons of swearing and sexual references. The humor comes from the idea that they are at an age where they understand just enough of the world to no longer be considered little. They have enough knowledge to get approximately 60% of the way there before ending up terribly wrong. They can see maturity from where they are, but have no clue how to get there. Around half of the jokes are about their misconceptions, the other half are generated by them realizing the truth. This is a movie looking at some of the more universal challenges of no longer being a child, but not quite being a teenager, with a focus on friendship, hormones and being yourself. Also, porn, drugs and sex toys.
In order for something like this to be successful, the kids have to be realistic. If they are too smart or too ignorant, it loses its charm. Good Boys finds the sweet spot. Jacob Tremblay’s Max is nice and polite, not wanting to leave his friends behind, while unable to ignore his desires. Brady Noon’s Thor is tired of being made fun of for a past indiscretion and wants to be seen as cool, even if it means giving up his love of singing. Keith L. Williams’ Lucas is a good kid who enjoys playing games with his friends or hanging out with his parents. He does not want things to change. Life, as always, has different ideas.
All three young actors make the material work. I can see how this could have been uncomfortable to watch, yet it never is. Tremblay is good as a kid trying hard to grow up. Noon is that boy who thinks swearing makes him seem older. He has several funny moments, though it becomes a bit much after a while. Williams is tremendous as someone who takes everything at face value, likes rules and thinks life is pretty good. His delivery is so earnest in the face of mounting troubles. When he finally loses his cool, it gets some of the biggest laughs. Casting is key in a comedy and they absolutely got it right here.
Good Boys (84 minutes without the end credits) takes a potentially problematic premise (a raunchy comedy starring kids) and tweaks the American Pie/Superbad formula just enough for it to work. It is about that awkward period between elementary school and high school. It does not have a lot to say about it, but it uses it ably. There have already been comedies this year that were more likable (Long Shot, Missing Link) or more thoughtful (Late Night, Booksmart). However, only Booksmart made me laugh more. In the end, that is what viewers care about in regards to a comedy. It did not transcend the formula or make me reconsider my childhood, but I laughed a lot.
3½ out of 5
Jacob Tremblay as Max
Keith L. Williams as Lucas
Brady Noon as Thor
Molly Gordon as Hannah
Midori Francis as Lily
Will Forte as Max’s Dad
Lil Rel Howery as Lucas’ Dad
Retta as Lucas’ Mom
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky
Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky