Review: 'Good Boys' Offers A Heartfelt, Raunchy Odyssey Through Tweenhood
When I was just a little younger than the tween protagonists of Good Boys, I bought my first (and only, I swear!) coke spoon. As in, a spoon to snort drugs from. I found it while rooting through a bin at the flea market (“Any 3 Items For $.25!”), and I even found a matching knife to go with it, perfect for crushing the drugs and dividing them into snortable little lines. Now, I should mention that I didn’t realize I was buying drug paraphernalia at the time. I was buying what I assumed was a set of ornate, slightly oversized cutlery made for a fancy doll collection — a set that was simply missing its matching fork. Because, like, why else would you need a tiny, flat spoon and a knife? Well, fast-forward to college when I was sitting at a party watching someone demonstrate precisely what one would do with a tiny, flat spoon and a knife, and I experienced what was probably one of the few actual epiphanies I’ve ever had: Somewhere in my childhood bedroom, rattling around forgotten in a toy bin under my bed, was a freaking coke spoon.
I remembered this story while watching Good Boys, not because the movie involves kids innocently carrying around unmentionables (though that is definitely a massive element of the plot), but because it really captures the know-it-all nature of pre-teens who actually know absolutely nothing at all. Teenagers get a bad rap for thinking they know best, but to their credit at least they’re starting to have a clue about the wider world. They aren’t lacking knowledge so much as experience and judgement. Tweens, on the other hand, are growing into that innate belief that they know better than their peers and parents at a faster rate than they are growing out of the sheltered bubble of their childhood. They can’t even begin to guess at the things they don’t know. So they fake it. They make stuff up to fill the gaps, taking giant leaps of logic that make sense in the limited view of the world they’ve had so far, and they invest in those leaps with zeal. They stitch together the few things they do know to cover for everything they don’t. It’s not that they simply don’t recognize the coke spoons in their midst, if you will. It’s that they think they know exactly what those coke spoons are, and they happen to be doll spoons, thank you very much.
This disconnect between the reality we know and the reality the boys think they know is where the brunt of the humor in Good Boys lies. And to be honest, it should get tiresome after awhile. There’s only so many times you can see three boys mistake a sex toy for something else — a CPR doll, a normal not-sex swing, a weirdly stinky beaded necklace — before it suffers from diminishing returns, right? And yet the movie wisely keeps piling on the absurdity of its gags, upping the ante while banking on its believably innocent (and extraordinarily talented) young stars to make it work. It would be easy to write this off as simply an aged-down Superbad, considering the marketing has leaned heavily on the Seth Rogan/Evan Goldberg connection (they’re producers), and the fact that this film also features boys getting into trouble on their way to a party that promises to change their lives. But Good Boys, written by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (who previously worked together on Bad Teacher and the Stephen Merchant series Hello Ladies), differentiates itself with its honest and laser-focused depiction of a pivotal — albeit smaller and simpler — coming-of-age moment: Sixth Grade. That time when you first begin to comprehend not only that the world is bigger and more complicated than you imagined, but that you are as well — and that growing up means growing out of the things that brought you comfort in your youth.
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon) are three best friends who just want to attend their first spin-the-bottle party, so Max can kiss the girl he likes and Thor can prove he has what it takes to be popular. But the first thing they need to do is figure out how to kiss. And look, this movie demands that you can accept a reality where three 12-year-olds drop F-bombs with metered regularity and artistic flair, and yet somehow haven’t caught enough glimpses of their mom’s soap operas to know how frenching works. Worse still, instead of Googling how to kiss, they immediately search for porn — and yet are flabbergasted when they find, you know, porn. I’ll admit, the movie asks you to suspend a lot of disbelief. But it also rewards you for doing all that heavy lifting, particularly with a second act dust-up at a frat house as the boys inadvertently take down a bunch of dudes who probably think #MeToo is a signal for another brewski. Of course the scene is unrealistic — but it’s also deeply satisfying in a way I was not expecting. If you’re gonna suspend your disbelief, you may as well get some social justice and swear words out of it!
But the flipside is that there is a lot of realer-than-real moments going on in this too — details that are completely foreign to my mid-thirties, no-kid-having ass and yet feel so truthy they hurt. To be clear, these kids are Privileged with a capital P. They live in a nice suburb in nice houses. They have MacBooks and iPads and iPhones and diamond stud earrings and the only thing off-limits to them is the fancy drone that’s for one father’s “work”. That father, played by Will Forte, happens to get misty-eyed with pride when he realizes his son Max might be masturbating. Thor’s parents are the source of all the sex toys, while Lucas’s parents, played by Lil Rel Howery and Retta, come off the most relatable of the bunch. They’re simply navigating a mostly-amicable divorce by indulging their son’s whims and promising him two Taco Tuesdays each week.
Of course, these boys don’t need to face huge hardships in order to experience growth, and while the stakes remain low the film does an admirable job showing that these really are some good boys. They aren’t popular, but they aren’t outcasts. They understand how meaningful consent works. They are afraid of drugs, and know how to recognize pedophiles (look for men who look like Stephen Merchant), and generally have each other’s backs — or know how to call for the school’s anti-bullying squad to help. Ultimately, their journey to the party may take a lot of detours, but that isn’t what makes this day in their lives so important. Instead, they learn an important lesson about the nature of friendship, and that lasting bonds aren’t the same as unchanging bonds after all.
Is this movie an instant classic? Probably not. But it’s a good late summer get-out-of-the-heat-and-have-some-laughs flick. It’s breezy and fun and manages to highlight a period in our lives that is often overlooked. And most impressively, Good Boys maintains its air of innocence through all of its over-the-top raunch, like a 90-minute long risqué joke sailing right over the head of, well, a sixth grader. It’s not a deep or important movie, but I found it refreshing for being exactly what it is: a movie that celebrates the smaller milestones in life.
Header Image Source: Universal Pictures