The Kids Are All Great – Film Review: Good Boys ★★★★

Sometimes a movie comes out and you can easily imagine the pitch which took place to get it greenlit. With Good Boys, I would guess Seth Rogen walked into the conference room at Universal, which, let’s face it, is enough to get a movie made anyhow, and said five words, “Superbad Meets Stand By Me”. The suits applauded wildly, told him they’re in the “Seth Rogen business” and let him leave with a handshake deal and his free bottle of water. To fall prey to this conjecture, however, takes away from the pure pleasure of experiencing this surprisingly unique film.

On paper, it sounds like every other teen comedy, except the leads are tweens, so to hear them swearing constantly gives it that extra kick. It’s your typical “boys lose a drone to two teenaged girls, must purchase drugs for the girls in order to get drone back, and do so in time for the big make-out party” kind of scenario. Nothing special about the plot, but director Gene Stupnitsky along with co-writer Lee Eisenberg (both writers on The Office) have given us a story about kids, who genuinely act like kids, finding their true voices. It would have been so easy to succumb to the obvious tropes inherent in the film’s plot, but the filmmakers seem way more interested in capturing children way out of their league and not having the answers to everything. It proves incredibly refreshing, especially for a big studio comedy. Anybody can adhere to a strict template, but the filmmakers color outside those lines enough to deflect comparisons to any of its predecessors.

At the outset, we meet the “Bean Bag Boys”, three best friends who like to ride their bikes around, play video games, and, yes, hang out on their bean bags. They talk a big game about sex, drugs and alcohol, but their youth spills out in a series of malapropisms and squeamish reactions. Their ostensible leader, Max, played by the very talented Jacob Tremblay (Room and Wonder), has a huge crush on a girl named Brixlee, and borrows his father’s drone to capture footage of older kids making out so that he can learn to do the same at the big party. His pal Lucas (Keith L. Williams) has a moral compass which comprises of blurting out the truth at all costs. The third kid, Thor (Brady Noon) likes to brag about drinking beer and having had lots of sex, but at heart we know him to be a musical theatre prodigy and much more naive to the ways of the world than how he presents himself. As such, we’re treated to a lot of scenes in which their bravado bumps up against their obvious inexperience. In a word, it’s “delicious”.

Whether they’re buying drugs at a frat house or trying to cross a busy freeway, Stupnitsky stays focused on his characters. Yes, he has them scream and cry. Yes, he mines humor from anal beads and sex slings. Yes, he pings on so many teen comedy moments we’ve grown to love, but he always reminds us that these are very young kids. They may swear – a lot – like literally every five seconds – but they also cry, need their parents, and move on from some hard moments faster than their teen counterparts. It’s through this approach where we get scenes of genuine feeling and warmth. It may teeter towards mushiness, but Stupnitsky never forgets he’s making a laugh out loud comedy too.

With its shaggy plot, Good Boys feels like a hangout movie, but every scene seems to illustrate the challenge of acting older than you are, whether it’s proving yourself in a beer sipping challenge or playing spin the bottle. These kids can’t quite handle alcohol or even making eye contact with people they’re attracted to, and these scenes prove to be gems because of such sly observations.

Max (foreground, Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) in “Good Boys,” written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and directed by Stupnitsky.

Much credit goes to the cast, with our three leads finding so much heart in their foul-mouthed characters. Noon, who sings beautifully, feels like a character who’s coded as gay, but it’s never explored outright. I half-expected a “10 Years Later” card to pop up at the end, showing us his new queer life, but, again, Stupnitsky stays true to the ages of his characters, refusing to let them seem more evolved than expected. Regardless, Noon wonderfully plays Thor as a cross between the Artful Dodger and a pre-teen version of Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind! Williams has such a wild, nerdy energy but finds real emotions in his scenes with his divorcing parents, played perfectly by Retta and Lil Rel Howery. Finally, Tremblay could have easily coasted as the ostensible romantic lead, but he displays a real gift for comedy with his wide-mouthed reactions and steady stream of “F*cks”! Put all three kids together and you have a completely believable trio of best friends. They’ll outgrow each other for sure, maybe move on, but will undoubtedly grow into fantastic adults as a result of this friendship. Forget the original pitch. Good Boys seems destined to join the list of teen classic comedies as that movie that made you simultaneously do spit takes while saying, “Awwwwww”.

GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Good Boys gets a 25 out of 50. Not only do we get the aforementioned subtlety of Thor’s possibly queer character, but we also get treated to a more overt tween lesbian relationship despite its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it presence. Still, this astute film lays the groundwork for a future where kids may grow up feeling good about themselves no matter where they are on the gender or sexual orientation spectrum.

By Glenn Gaylord

Good Boys is currently in wide release worldwide, and is not kidding around at the box office.

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