A film review by Craig J. Koban August 31, 2019

GOOD BOYS jjj

2019, R, 95 mins.

 

Jacob Tremblay as Max  /  Keith L. Williams as Lucas  /  Brady Noon as Thor )Molly Gordon as Hannah  /  Will Forte as Max's dad  /  Retta as Lucas' Mom  /  LilRel Howery as Lucas' dad  /  Millie Davis as Brixlee

Directed by Gene Stupnitsky  /  Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky

 

 

 

If your idea of a good time at the cinema is to spend 90 minutes watching a movie featuring six graders drop frequent f-bombs - and many, many other naughty words that would make the personas of GOODFELLAS cringe - then look no further than the paradoxically titled GOOD BOYS.   

As for the rest of you...be afraid...be very afraid. 

Okay, sarcasm aside, let me engage in some hard hitting truth bombing on you all.  

Kids swear.  

Sometimes...a lot.  

Hearing kids lash out vulgarity at such a tender age can be revolting on many levels, yes, but it's a fact of life.  Growing up on many a Canadian playground I witnessed children cursing insults with reckless abandon, so, on those levels, there's a reasonable level of verisimilitude with the young characters that populate GOOD BOYS.  Now, there is an inherent shock value associated with this, and once you hear these characters spew out ear piercing expletives over and over again it starts to wear thin very early on, which I think hurts the film from attaining the same lingering genre staying power of, say, SUPERBAD or this year's BOOKSMART (also about young people, albeit a few years older).  Still, GOOD BOYS has an undeniable sweetness to it lurching beneath its incessant crassness, and the film does a decent job of showcasing boys on the verge of adolescence going painfully through all of the awkward phases associated with that life transition. 

Okay, maybe the film is not that sweet, seeing as it opens with a masturbation gag. 

 

 

The "good boys" (ha!) in question are Max (ROOM'S incredible Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (not the God of Thunder, played by Brady Noon) and their quest to go to a - gasp! - kissing party so that Max can lock lips with the girl of his dreams in Brixlee (Millie Davis).  There's one big problem: none of these lads have any idea how to get to first base with the ladies.  They do know (in a rather amusing recurring reference that feels very much of our time) that they have to get a girl's "consent" before they plant one on them, so at least they're gentlemen about that.  The boys, naturally enough, Google search kissing, which inadvertently takes them to a porn site (eeeeeewww!), which leads to them spying on their older neighbor in Hannah (Molly Gordon) when she's kissing her own boyfriend to learn the ropes.  Of course, the boys take the most ridiculously complicated route to doing this by stealing Max's dad's (Will Forte) prized ­never-touch-it-ever toy drone to fly by Hannah's place for some reconnaissance.  Gee, I wonder if this drone will get trashed at some point in this film? 

Max and the gang are all facing social pressures beyond making it with a girl and being, as a result, cool with the cool kids.  Max is traumatized by the notion of being grounded by his overprotective father for the slightest indiscretion, whereas Lucas is struggling with his parent divorcing.  Thor seems to face the constant pressure of feeling liked and accepted and being with the "in" crowd, not to mention that he a passion for singing and desperately wants to win a coveted role in the school's production of ROCK OF AGES.  Part of what helps segregate GOOD BOYS from a very crowded pack of other R-rated coming of age/school comedies is that it tries to inject some personality in these child characters and make them empathetically vulnerable, despite their verbal coarseness.   

Of course, this is aided considerably by the talented trio on screen here, all of whom do a stellar job of giving their respective roles some much needed layered dimension.  Tremblay's Max is sort of the de facto leader of the "Bean Bag Boys" group and seems both atypically mature, yet naive about the world.  Williams' Lucas gets some of the film's biggest laughs and just how hyper honest he is at the most inopportune of moments (he's aggressively law abiding to the point of being hysterical).  Noon is sort of the pint sized Jonah Hill-type of the group, one who's trash talking antics masks many hidden insecurities.  The chemistry between these actors is palpable throughout and they're always believable as on-screen pals that you feel have been together since kindergarten.  I also liked the fact that GOOD BOYS manages to find time to deal with the all too crucial and problematic time in children's lives when growing older potentially means growing apart from your elementary school BFFs as you begin to pursue other ventures, and the nagging uncertainties of what's to come for Max and company causes a lot of unease in them. 

But, let's be clear, GOOD BOYS has an awful lot of scatological shenanigans that more than earns this film's hard R rating.  Much of the humor that's generated in the film is at the amusing expense of the children's sometimes limitless inexperience about the world in general.  Outside of Google searching smooching advice netting horrible results, the kids decide to practice their lip locking technique on what they think is a family first aid doll, which, just by looking at it with adult eyes, it's pretty clear that it's a sex toy with a giant O shaped mouth (Max is flustered when he discovers a hair in it).  Then there's later obligatory scenes involving sipping beer (not fully drinking it) and a very dangerous choice involving crossing a very jam packed freeway.  The kids even find themselves, at one key point, in a frat house looking to secure drugs for Hannah and her friend, which culminates with a lot of violence unleashed via a smuggled in paint gun. 

I left my screening of GOOD BOYS asking perhaps far too many logical questions about its sometimes wonky scripting, mostly on a level of basic consistency.  There are times when the kids here act authentically...well...childish and misinformed...but then there are other times when they all seem impossibly wise beyond their years about other matters (and the screenplay flips flops between both extremes when it's deemed convenient).  When one starts to think about it, these boys know about the social importance of consent, but have no idea how sex or kissing works despite cracking jokes about intercourse.   I think there's something endearing about the levels of curiosity that boys have about sexuality and how much they fail at seeking out information about it on their own (utilizing sex toys as weapons in a play fight, for example), but the trio here occasional traverses between being wise and imbecilic a bit too casually to feel credible.   

Then there's the whole idea of basing an adult rated comedy about young boys swearing and acting badly, and, as mentioned, this is initially funny, but starts to become distracting noise as the film tries to stretch it out to 90 minutes.  And there will certainly be many unsuspecting viewers going into GOOD BOYS that will come out of it shell shocked by the film's unrelenting lewdness involving pre-pubescent boys.  Even though I'm no cinematic prude and typically isn't bothered by such material, even I must concede that hearing Jacob Tremblay et al screaming out acid tongued verbal assaults became more numbing than entertaining for me after awhile.  I'm a bit on the recommendation fence for GOOD BOYS, mostly because I don't think it's as smartly written as this year's BOOKSMART or has the same level of perceptive insight as last year's EIGHTH GRADE.  Still, GOOD BOYS manages to mostly balance offensive tastelessness and sincerity fairly well, and the film gives us a reason to care for these swearing machines.  

Plus, GOOD BOYS is the only film in the history of the medium to have a child hilariously scream out at a bum "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU LOOKING AT, GANDOLF?!"

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