2019 might be the year of the coming-of-age comedy, with Eighth Grade breaking our hearts and Booksmart filling them with joy. Now, Good Boys joins the gang with a story of three sixth-grade lads (so 11- or 12-years-old) who are invited to their very first “kissing party” and end up on an escapade involving a broken drone, some misplaced drugs and an expensive sex doll.
Like Booksmart and Eighth Grade, this is another feature directorial debut – this time from Gene Stupnitsky who helmed episodes of The Office and wrote Year One and Bad Teacher – while among its producers are Superbad and Sausage Party men Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.
However much this might sound like a typically crass high-school caper, against all odds, Good Boys isn’t really like that at all – it’s actually way sweeter, deriving much of its humour from the palpable, fragile innocence of kids just on the cusp of adolescence. While it might have the trappings of a knock-about, gross-out teen romp, at heart it falls closer to something like Stand By Me.
“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?” Richard Dreyfuss’s character laments at the end of that film – it could just as well be Good Boys logline.
Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon play best friends Max, Lucas and Thor, aka The Beanbag Boys – mates since childhood because they live close together and their parents know each other. When Max secures an invite to the coolest party around via the kudos earned by sipping a beer, with his trusty side-kicks in tow he embarks on an “into the woods” style quest to get a kiss from a girl.
It’s a rite of passage for the three who are gently learning who they are outside of the safe haven of The Beanbag Boys, encountering teenage girls, first love and their own growing individuality.
What makes this work so well is the central performances – all three kids are completely adorable and despite some bad judgments and misunderstandings, they really are all good boys. Lucas is big on anti-bullying however uncool it might make him, Max understands and respects the concept of consent in a way that’s completely uncynical while Thor is trying to maintain a sense of self in the face of prejudice over his talent for musical theatre (“I’ve been thinking of quitting singing since I was young,” he ruefully says when he’s shamed into deleting his name from the audition sign-up sheet). These are nice kids unspoilt by life and prize each other’s friendship over everything.
While some of the humour comes from their naivety – a recurring gag involving a child-proof cap on a vitamin bottle is hilarious – we’re mostly laughing with the boys not at them, or at least not in a way that’s anything but affectionate. A third-act montage sequencing the kids’ growing pains, including Max’s first taste of heartbreak, is as moving as it is amusing.
Indeed, most of the characters in Good Boys are kind-hearted – this isn’t a depiction of the world as a scary place but more one filled with new experiences both good and bad. It’s a snapshot of how complicated childhood is these days and a sympathetic portrait of the intense joy and pain of growing up – albeit with gags about porn and a sequence involving paintball in a frat house.
Not the movie it looks like on paper, then, but something altogether softer and more contemporary, with a much-needed world view that despite the horrors of growing up in 2019, the kids are going to be alright.
Good Boys is out in UK cinemas on Friday 16 August