[This is a repost of our review from the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. Good Boys opens today.]
I’m a sucker for a good coming of age movie, and I mean a real coming of age movie, not these model-hot twenty-somethings playing teenagers falling in love for the first time. I’m talking about the movies about real kids moving into the first grown-up stage in their lives. I’m talking about stuff like Stand By Me, Bridge to Terabithia, My Girl, The 400 Blows and the more recent Eighth Grade. Maybe it’s because that transition from child to not quite adult was the period of time that I began to discover the person I would grow up to be, and the nostalgia that carry for it, but I love seeing seeing it represented on film.
I also love raunchy R-rated comedies. Anything that pushes the envelope to get a laugh is appreciated by me, lowbrow or not. And although I love both of these sub-genres, I never really thought about putting them together. Never once did I think about how those two flavors would play out. But thanks to Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg‘s Point Grey Pictures, we now have Good Boys to answer that question, and the results are… unexpected.
Yes, this is a movie in which America’s favorite kid Jacob Tremblay practices kissing on what he mistakenly assumes is his father’s CPR dummy (it’s not). Yes, this is a movie in which a frat bro straight up decks a kid. Yes, this is a movie where (apparently used) anal beads are used as nunchucks. All that is true, but something curious happens when it’s a trio of tweens at the forefront of this madness versus the teenagers you’re used to seeing in a movie like this. There’s an innocence to the gross-out jokes that simply isn’t there when the same stuff happens with a horny teenage boy.
Good Boys has many of the same themes as something like Superbad, but every one of them is subverted by its focus on children. For instance, you expect there to be some drama in the friend group, a wedge that drives them apart. And we get that moment here, but instead of the typical stubborn machismo bullshit that flares up when teenager boys fight, you get something different with kids. At this age, they feel everything 100% purely and their defensive emotional fences aren’t up yet. Their fight here may be stoked by feelings of jealousy and anxiety of being excluded, but the real fire stems from an odd positivity. One of the kids feels like his friend is not living up to his full potential, ignoring the life he actually wants in order to fit in a little more.
That positivity infects the whole movie. I mean, it’s a raunchy comedy in which the three lead boys stan for consent to even kiss a girl. If Blockers was a breakthrough in sex-positive comedy, I guess Good Boys is a breakthrough in the pre-sex-positive comedy. Nobody’s trying to get laid here. Tremblay’s character is the first of his group to have feelings for girls, but like the other aspects of the movie, it’s very innocent. He yearns for a kiss. It’s important that’s the tone we get because this could have easily slid into irredeemably gross territory. Thankfully writer Lee Eisenberg and writer-director Gene Stupnitsky knew how to balance f-bombs with heart, and the result is this surprisingly emotionally resonant foul-mouthed movie.
The three kids are great together. You have Jacob Trembley’s Max, the sweet boy with a hormone monster starting to grow within; Brady Noon as Thor, the rambunctious one with a passion to perform; and Keith L. Williams as Lucas, the Jiminy Cricket of the group who doesn’t seem physically capable of telling a lie.
Jacob Tremblay proves he’s really good at goofy comedy and I’d love to see him do more like this. I also hope that Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams get a big boost from this flick. They’re both funny as hell and give it their all. Their dynamic is just as strong as Jonah Hill and Michael Cera’s in Superbad, even if the movie around them is a little choppier. I did notice some pretty jarring editing in the first third of the film. Stuff that was cutting back and forth wasn’t matching and the pacing felt a tad off, like things were missing and they were trying to blow past it. Nothing major, but it was something that I noticed.
That’s not a big knock on the film, though. In fact that makes it feel very much part and parcel with the Judd Apatow-ish style of comedy that this film fits into. You know they shot tons of different jokes and alternate versions of scenes, and sometimes going with the best moment means something’s not going to match up just right. The important thing isn’t whether or not Actor 1 is in the same position he was in before the camera cuts back from Actor 2. The important thing is that the jokes are funny (I think they are) and that you give a crap about the characters (I did).
In short, if a heartfelt movie about friendship that just also happens to involve a whole lot of cussing kids sounds good to you, then I can say this movie delivers what you want.