OnScreen Review: "Good Boys"

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  • Ken Jones, Chief Film Critic

Good Boys was essentially marketed as a sixth grade version of Superbad. For some people, that could be a good enough hook or a deal breaker. For me, it was a hook. I was curious on whether there would be anything else to it beyond just seeing tweens swearing, and thankfully there was plenty more to this movie beyond the vulgarity of pre-teen kids.

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) are best friends who have just started the sixth grade. Max is invited to a party by the popular kids, and learns it will be a kissing party, where he may have a chance to kiss his crush. He convinces the cool kids to let Lucas and Thor come too. Worried that they don’t know how to kiss, they steal the drone of Max’s dad (Will Forte) in order to spy on an older teenager named Hannah (Molly Gordon). Their plan backfires, horribly, and they end up in a protracted showdown with Hannah and her friend Lily (Midori Francis) who have possession of the drone while the boys have possession of Hannah’s purse, which means they are also in possession of drugs in the form of molly. Sorting out the drone situation and drug situation are just some of the obstacles they need to overcome before getting to the kissing party.

On the one hand, young kids swearing is always kind of funny on a very basic level. On the other hand, it would quickly wear thin if that was the only thing going on. This comedy, while not quite on the level of Superbad and some other recent teen comedy gems, get a lot of things right about being that in-between transition age between being a kid and being a teenager. There are a lot of moments where Max, Lucas, and Thor are talking about something that is, shall we say, beyond their years. In the trailer, the word “nymphomaniac” is tossed out as someone who has sex on land and water. In another scene, a couple of kids challenge Max and Thor to sip a beer with them. When the first kid takes a sip, he quips, “I can already feel something.”

Clearly, all of these are played for laughs, but the laughs come from a place of understanding that we’ve all been there before at an age where we got our knowledge about grown-up stuff from third or even fourth-hand sources and lacking the mental tools to properly process the information. Or, with the beer scene, kids obviously know that alcohol can get you drunk, and they’ve probably seen drunk people, but they don’t understand that one sip isn’t going to have the impact they think it will. They’re putting on airs to seem more grown up than they really are, which is really a big aspect of peer pressure and growing up in general. So even if you never sipped a beer like these kids when you were in sixth grade, we’ve all had similar moments where our life experience was inadequate for the moment.

It also gets right the idea that friendships at this age can change. It makes a point of saying that a lot of times kids can just be best friends because they’re the same age and their parents know each other or live next to each other. It has less to do with shared interests and real human bonds that form between people. Again, pretty much everyone has at least one or two people that they were probably really good friends with in elementary school but were just social acquaintances with in high school. Here, the three boys are starting to have other interests that are, imperceptibly to them, beginning to pull them in other directions, even though they are clinging to their image as the “Beanbag Boy” which is the perfect kind of bad name to give themselves at that age. Max is really into girls, Thor wants to sing in the school performance of Rock of Ages, and Lucas is really into games and following the rules and honesty.

Jacob Tremblay has been a young actor that grabbed my attention with Room a few years ago and has impressed me with almost everything I’ve seen him in. This comedy is no different. I equally enjoyed Brady Noon as Thor, a kid who’s got some kinky parents that the movie spells out pretty plainly, though we barely see the parents (which feels like something of a missed opportunity). However, the real standout for me was Keith L. Williams as Lucas, he of the “I respect women; my mom is my best friend” line in the trailer and the dislocated shoulder. He has a nervous shriek that he lets out throughout the movie, but in one particular scene at a frat house, that makes me laugh just thinking of it. His strong devotion to telling the truth, telling his parents everything, and basically giving a D.A.R.E. lecture to the teenagers with molly are just some of the things that make his performance shine.

Good Boys may not quite live up to the expectations of being Superbad in sixth grade, but it comes close. The three lead kids are individually funny and work well as a group of friends trying to make their way through the hardships of middle school. It’s funny to see these kids curse, but it’s just as funny to see that juxtaposed with being unable to open a childproof medicine bottle. And a lot of the comedy is derived from being in that in-between age of not being a kid but also not being a young adult who knows enough about real-world things. It’s what makes a teen comedy featuring adolescent kids be something of a grown-up movie.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars