‘Good Boys’ Review: Sleepover Parties Will Never Be the Same
As long as kids watch movies at sleepover parties, Good Boys will endure. It has the perfect mix of raunchy humor and relatable characters for that audience. As soon as it becomes available on home video I am 100 percent certain it will join Animal House, Superbad, and Whatever Friday The 13th Sequel Your Older Brother Owns on DVD on the Mount Rushmore of Sleepover Party Movies.
That I laughed frequently and loudly at the film perhaps suggests something about my own maturity level, but to paraphrase the famous line from Robert Warshow “A man-child goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit he is that man-child.” The movie lays its cards on the table from the first very scene, where a dad gives his son “The Talk” about masturbation — and the dad is played by Will Forte, one of the masters of sexually frank comedy. If that combination of actor and subject sounds good to you, you’re just the right immaturity level for Good Boys.
Forte’s son is played by Jacob Tremblay, who just a few years ago was the sweet little boy in Room with Brie Larsen. Still impossibly cherubic, he’s got the perfect face to play Max, a hormonal sixth-grader obsessed with girls — specifically one girl named Brixlee (Millie Davis) who he harbors a fanatical crush on. Max sees an opportunity when he lands an invite to his first kissing party — but this invite is also fraught with peril.
First of all, Max will have to bring his two best friends Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (the scene-stealing Keith L. Williams), and all three of these dudes are deeply uncool. Even worse, they have no idea how to kiss a girl. Their attempts to prepare themselves for what they believe will be the most important night of their lives leads to a surprisingly amusing wild goose chase that involves drones, drugs, and trying to run across all six lanes of a bustling freeway.
It’s easy to envision a version of this movie that doesn’t work at all, where the jokes fall flat, the youth of the actors is awkward and even exploitative, and the filmmakers take zero interest in the inner life of these kids. Good Boys avoids all those potential pitfalls. The screenplay is hilarious (and filled with a genuine sweetness that mixes well with the filthy jokes), the actors play things right down the middle, and the rapport between the three members of the “Bean Bag Boys,” as they call themselves, is intense and delightful. Max, Thor, and Lucas are on a desperate quest to get to this kissing party, but everyone in the audience knows the real thing at stake is their fragile childhood friendship that we, as grown-ups, don’t want to see trampled by the adult world. (The closeness of Max and his buds is contrasted with their parents’ relationships; poor Lucas’ are on the verge of a divorce.)
The innocence of the lead actors is key. While Good Boys is Rated R (for “strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving tweens” according to the MPAA) and not suitable for actual sixth graders, it wouldn’t be harmful in the slightest to teens a couple years older than that. There’s a lot of foul language — but most of the comedy comes out of the heroes’ ignorance about sexuality. There are drugs in the movie — but Max and his buddies (Lucas especially, who has an almost compulsive need to tell the truth, even when it will land him trouble) hate drugs, and could not make it clearer that drugs are bad.
That’s why the film works. Max, Thor, and Lucas really are good boys. They’re trying to do the right thing; even their pubescent longings are respectful to women. Observant viewers will recognize that the movie is largely about the pressure our world puts on children to grow up, and the way in which modern society essentially makes it impossible for kids to stay innocent — even when that’s what they want— because of the constant bombardment of messages from cell phones, and social media, and internet pornography.
Good Boys was directed and co-written by Gene Stupnitsky, who worked with his co-writer Lee Eisenberg on several seasons of The Office. Their previous screenplays — Year One, Bad Teacher — did not prepare me for the excellence of Good Boys, which is on a totally different level in terms of quality than everything they’ve made before. And for a first-time director, Stupnitsky does a superb job drawing sharp performances out of his three child actors, all of whom display deadeye comic timing and convincing emotions during the more sensitive scenes.
To be perfectly honest, I did not expect much from Good Boys. The premise of very young boys saying and doing dirty things just sounded like a gimmick; a desperate attempt to shock audiences who have long since seen it all, especially in the subgenre of teen comedies about horny dudes. What a pleasant surprise that the movie is far funnier and more perceptive about this brutal, hilarious time in a child’s life than I anticipated. Good Boys has a lot of fun with the fumbling way Max, Thor, and Lucas confront the world of adults — but there’s a sadness to their journey as well. And while some “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”s are inevitable with a movie like this, nothing they encounter is as shocking as the stuff that YouTube’s algorithm shovels into the eyeballs of actual 12-year-olds on a daily basis.
-A lot of things made me laugh very hard in Good Boys, but the thing that maybe made me laugh the hardest was the fact that the obnoxious bully at Max’s school is named Atticus.
-This is the second movie this summer where Will Forte is hilarious in a tiny supporting role as a devoted father. For the love of MacGruber, someone let Forte play this kind of part on a bigger scale! Hollywood, you are squandering a genius here.
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