There’s a genre all its own for raunchy, R-rated comedies that tell a coming-of-age story. From American Pie to Superbad, to the most recent example, Booksmart, almost all of them focus on the end of high school and into the big, bad world of adulthood. Last year’s Eighth Grade, however, flipped the script to tell a tale of a different stage of growing up and Good Boys follows suit, going even further back to the start of sixth grade and into the black abyss that is middle school.
Produced by Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Evan Goldberg, the minds behind Superbad, Neighbors, and others, Good Boys has all the hilarious and risqué elements that these types of films are known for, but it also has a surprising amount of heart. Perhaps it’s because the story is one that follows children much younger than what we’d used to seeing from these kinds of movies; who find themselves in improbable situations for the sake of comedy, but who never lose their wide-eyed innocence throughout. It’s an ode to those early childhood friends we all had; the ones we never thought we’d part from.
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L.Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon) are three best friends who have been together since kindergarten. This isn’t just because they’ve always lived near each other and their parents are friends (or so they tell themselves), no, it’s because they all genuinely like one another. The boys mostly spend their time playing a deck-building card game called Ascension, or riding their bikes around the neighborhood. All’s well until Max, who’s begun the arduous process of puberty before his two companions, gets invited to the cool kids’ “kissing party”.
There’s some obvious jealousy between the trio due to this, but Max manages to snag invitations for Lucas and Thor, who the other kids think are “random”, which means that the three of them need to learn how to kiss, and fast. Luckily, they come across a sex doll, have access to the internet so that they can look up porn to see if that has any tips, and a drone which they can use to spy on a couple of teenage girls, one of which is believed to be a nymphomaniac (which they believe means she can have sex on both land and sea). A series of events ends up with the kids escorting drugs around the town, having to cross the highway, fighting frat bros, and trying to steal beers in front of a cop. And that’s just to start with.
Again, part of what makes Good Boys so great is that the naivety of its three main characters is never sacrificed for cheap jokes. The boys are foul-mouthed, to be sure, but the tough talk is just that – they’re still children who are grossed out by porn, are terrified to take a single sip of beer, and who still drink out of juice boxes. Half of the fun of the movie is being able to laugh at yourself and fondly remembering that, yes, this is almost exactly what it was like to be that age. Film and television have both recently been nailing the accuracy of what it was actually like to be a kid, and I think the secret is just that we’re being more honest about it nowadays.
Not every joke is a winner, and there are times when it feels like the movie could risk being a bit edgier, but part of Good Boys’ charm and quality is the wise decision to pull back whenever things get too inappropriate or the comedic situation becomes too absurd. The film also has a surprising and rather poignant ending that caught me off guard with its total sincerity. The film has a way to wistfully take you back to the days when kissing a boy or girl was the most terrifying thing you could think of, when a four mile trip to the mall was the biggest adventure you could possibly imagine, and when you, along with your closest friends, were just starting to really figure out the world, what was in it, and how it worked.
Good Boys’ secret weapon is its three main actors and how effortlessly they capture the essence of sixth grade (being age appropriate surely helps). It’s a time when you’re beginning to learn about who you are. Max’s interests veer solely into girls, Lucas, the moral compass of the group, is a hardcore rule follower and enforcer, and Thor loves to sing, before he’s bullied out of it by the cool kids. Different interests can cause friends to drift apart, but memories and childhood camaraderie are forever – a bond that can’t be broken or taken from you. Good Boys, if nothing else, is a tribute to that presented in the most fun way possible.
Good Boys is a classic R-rated raunch fest, but one with a sweet and nostalgic heart at its center thanks to it starring tweens rather than teens.