The list of R-rated movies about kids and the pains of adolescence is slim, but it is distinguished. Movies like Stand by Me, The Squid and the Whale, Little Darlings and, if we’re going really dark, 1992’s Kids (wait, that’s NC-17, forget it) have made a lasting impression on popular culture. The new Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg-produced comedy Good Boys joins them. Like Superbad, which the pair co-wrote, Good Boys loses the heavy drama and goes straight for screwball comedy, reveling in the unabashed absurdity of childhood innocence.
Good Boys is ridiculous, raunchy and, at times, flat-out stupid, but it’s a movie about three 12-year-old’s going to their first “kissing party,” so it’s not trying to win the Palme d’Or. Stupid or not, it’s damn refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t idealize pre-teens with that familiar, wide-eyed, Spielbergian awe we’re all so used to. These kids are more Bad News Bears than Stranger Things, consistently dropping F-bombs like water balloons off a building. And, like most 12-year-olds, the protagonists of Good Boys are unremittingly insecure, confused, irascible and over-the-top dramatic. But they’re also nice and, dare I say, good? The running joke in Gene Stupintsky’s directorial debut is these nice kids are terrible at being “bad.” Now, that’s new for Hollywood!
The self-proclaimed “Bean Bag Boys” (yes, they all have bean bags), played with hilarious aplomb by Jacob Tremblay (Max), Brady Noon (Thor) and Keith L. Williams (Lucas), just started middle school and they’re feeling the pressure to fit in. “We’re no longer fifth-graders!” Tremblay’s Max proclaims. The test of entering this new world includes drinking their first beer, raiding their parents’ closet and watching porn, all of which they fail at horribly. When Max is invited to a kissing party, he sees a unique opportunity and quickly enlists his pals to accompany him. Soon the three friends embark on a day-long journey where they attempt to learn about the mysterious world of sex with the poise of blind mice in a maze. However, their plan is thwarted when they find themselves in a cat-and-mouse chase with their high school senior neighbors (Molly Gordon, Midori Francis) after accidentally stealing their drugs. From there, the movie runs on a stream of gross-out jokes, dire situations and the painful realization that your childhood friendships might not last forever.
It’s a raucous, feverish ride, albeit one with a few bumps on the road. The editing is a little jarring, pulling us away from some good scenes that would’ve been better played out, and the humor tends to be inconsistent at times. The script could’ve used one more draft, tightening up the jokes, and focusing less on drawn out action sequences and more on the characters’ dilemmas. I mean, how many times do we need to see someone falling off a bike and smashing into something?
Still, Good Boys takes chances that you don’t see too often on film, which ultimately makes it a really good time. The movie is at its best when it takes you back to those pre-teen days when everything is as serious as a heart attack and your world is defined by your closest friends. In the end, it has a genuine heart beating underneath the obscenity and toilet humor, reminding grown-ups that our innocence was exciting and hilarious, which is why we spend our adult lives trying to recapture it.