Good Boys is a sweet, juvenile, vulgar and funny coming of age movie. The tweens are not normally the age group of which is much discussed in the movies. Filmmakers tend to be more focused on childhood, the teen years, or young adulthood. Little is said about the most embarrassing and innocent of times.
Gene Stupnitsky walks an odd razor-thin line with his ode to male adolescence. The line being his choice to use age-appropriate actors. Oftentimes the actors playing teenagers are in their twenties and actors playing kids are often forced to be cloying precocious. Stupnitsky and his co-writer Lee Eisenberg’s commitment to age appropriateness also lends a layer of authenticity to the shenanigans our heroes find themselves in.
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) are lifelong best friends. They call themselves “the bean bag boys”. A name they brandish proudly as if it were “The Three Muskateers”. But as close as they are, the three are rapidly approaching a time in their lives where their interest and bodies seem to be pulling them apart.
Tremblay, Noon, and Williams help thread the impossible needle. The three leads are both charming and immensely likable. I must confess a certain kinship with Lucas though. Especially at the moment when after seeing two people kiss at a party, he stands up and says “I’m out.” He’s warned if he leaves the party he can never come back. His eye roll along with his melodramatic cry of “Oh no! Whatever shall I do?!,” was a moment I related to on a marrow-deep level.
Tremblay’s Max though is a deceptively complex role. Max’s hormones are raging in a way his friend’s hormones are not. He sees girls everywhere and can’t help but be smitten. Tremblay being the same age is having to do, what must be, a mixture of public confession and acting.
Noon’s Thor is no less tricky as he tries to navigate what he feels to be cool versus what is perceived to be cool. The three boys deliver their lines with heedless confidence in a way only boys of that age can. Their inexperience and confusion only making their characters seem more real and fleshed out.
Stupnitsky and Eisenberg’s script is a road movie which less of a story than a string of incidents in which one damn thing after another happens. But it’s the boys that drive their stories. Good Boys is a raunchy comedy but it’s raunchy in a knowing yet naive way at times.
The jokes come from the boys’ naivety and the audience’s lack of it. But these jokes are only part of the humor. Because underneath it all is the boys themselves. Max has a dead certain belief that he and Brixlee (Millie Davis) are meant to be. Thor is agonizing over his audition for the school’s production of Rock of Ages. Poor Lucas though is dealing with the news of his parents’ divorce.
Good Boys understands the immense horror, overwhelming impossibilities, and brain-melting glee of tweenhood. In other words, they understand how kids at that age feel every emotion with the intensity of a thousand newly born suns. Max is invited to a kissing party. A party in which Brixlee will be there. Though the two have never spoken he is convinced they are meant for each other.
Except Thor and Lucas weren’t invited to the party. Max begs Soren (Izaac Wong), the popular kid who’s throwing the party, to let his friends come along. Stupnitsky and Eisenberg’s script is genius because had these boys been two years older none of the problems in this movie would be real problems. But because they are the age they are each obstacle seems to put them in precarious positions.
It helps Good Boys that Max, Thor, and Lucas are not wise beyond their years. They’re kids and they do and say stupid things. They try to google how to kiss but instead Google porn because they’ve heard people kiss in porn. It never occurs to them to simply google “how to kiss”.
Being twelve is a weird age. After failing to learn how to kiss from the internet the boys decide to spy on his neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon) and her girlfriend Lilly (Midori Francis). “We could climb a tree,” Lucas suggests. “No that’s too dangerous, we could fall and get hurt.” Lucas shrugs. “I meant we could just climb a tree.” It’s an age where your friends are on the same page but oftentimes in different books.
Simple and straightforward Good Boys is a marathon of giggles. The film has some big laughs but between them, I found myself just sort of goofily chuckling at the boy’s mixture of sweetness and stupidity. After Max wrecks his Dad’s drone they brainstorm where they could buy a new one. When they realize the only place that has it is the local mall the boys wail in despair. “That’s four miles away! How are we ever going to get there!”
Stupnitsky and Eisenberg understand how small the world his to kids that age. Bikes and walking are primary modes of transportation and precious as gold to kids during that time. Good Boys is a movie without villains or bad guys. Because it is middle school it has its share of jerks but that’s okay every school has those.
Though I wonder when, if ever, we’ll ever see a movie about girls at this age, written and directed by women. Still, Good Boys understands the differences between curiosity, attraction, and objectification in a way most romantic comedies and another coming of age films don’t. The boys find, what they believe to be a CPR doll, but is in reality clearly a sex doll. As Max leans in to kiss it Lucas stops him. “Wait! You have to have her consent!”
The joke isn’t about how silly the notion of consent is. In fact, the boys don’t think it’s funny and go about complimenting the doll and asking her for her consent. The joke is these twelve-year-olds have mastered what supposedly grown men have claimed is the impossible byzantine maze of doublespeak as an excuse to continue their obnoxiously toxic behavior. It works because it reveals the lie men to try to tell each other about how complicated “consent” is.
The novelty of seeing kids curse could or misuse polysyllabic words could easily grow thin but Stupnitsky and Eisenberg bolster the film with well-defined characters with varying goals and desires. It’s not just that Lucas’ parents are divorcing he’s also not that interested in being cool or quite frankly doing anything more than kids stuff. Thor wants to sing but can’t help but maintain some kind of masculine facade-or what he perceives to be masculine. Then there’s Max, the kid who started noticing girls and has trouble focusing on anything else.
Neither boy is judged for not wanting to do what their friends do, and the film doesn’t judge them either. At the heart of Good Boys is the aching melancholy truth that the friends made when we’re children are often not the same friends who stay with us into our adulthood or even our teens. Towards the end, the boys get into an argument and walk away, each crying as they part.
Crying is a weird touchy subject amongst most men. But Good Boys allows the boys to cry and not feel ashamed and doesn’t mock them for it either. They are, after all, merely children. But even if they weren’t it would still be okay to cry.
Good Boys finds a way to mix vulgarity and sincerity in a way that leaves us charmed. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and despite the shambling nature of the plot never feels as if it’s just killing time. The film might not be original, a sometimes over empathized trait, it is a smart and sweet comedy about a time most of us are embarrassed to look back on. Besides if the future generation is as good as Max, Thor, and Lucas-we may be all right after all.
Image courtesy of Universal Pictures