Good Boys Review
It’s hard not to feel a little bit repulsed by the basic premise of Good Boys, largely due to it sounding like a gross-out comedy which prioritises the sheer grossness over any actual jokes. It’s not that the film, the directorial debut of US Office alum Gene Stupnitsky, is breaking any new ground particularly - by this stage, audiences are more than accustomed with the foul mouthed exploits of the kids on South Park and Big Mouth. But making gross out animation, with adults voicing the tween characters, is an entirely different proposition than seeing young actors perform material that flouts the boundaries of good taste.
But Stupnitsky’s film has something that those two animated series merely flirt with: an overriding sense of melancholy that grounds the lowbrow chaos within a surprisingly moving portrayal of childhood friendship, and how friends grow apart as they get older. The director - who co-wrote the screenplay with another former Office writer, Lee Eisenberg - can’t be accused of not committing to the troublesome premise, doubling down on the children falling into a web of criminality involving drugs and sex toys at every turn. But it’s that the surprising poignancy that leaves a lasting impression, long after the laughs (and the particularly sour taste of many of them) have faded. As was the case with Superbad, calling it a gross out comedy proves to be detrimental to the far more compelling examination of the dynamics surrounding young male friendship.
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) are the “beanbag boys”, lifelong friends who are slowly creeping towards becoming teenagers as they enter their sixth grade studies. When Max gets invited to a kissing party by one of the popular kids which his crush is attending, he manages to get his friends invited along too - the only problem is, none of them know how to kiss, and are terrified of the prospect. Using his dad’s drone, Max hovers over a neighbour’s garden to spy on the teenage girl the gang assumes is being visited by a boyfriend to observe technique. Naturally, this doesn’t go to plan, the drone gets destroyed and in the process of heading to retrieve it, they inadvertently end up taking a backpack containing the girl’s drug stash. The clock is ticking for the boys to find the money to replace the drone and get it back home before Max’s dad returns from a business trip - and they still need to learn how to kiss.
The screenplay plays childhood naivety for laughs, understanding that while children may know curse words, they’re hardly wise beyond their years in that regard - the film’s funniest joke may be the duelling definitions the kids give to the word “nymphomaniac”. It’s a fairly accurate view of the distorted, less corrupted way young people view the adult world, and also helps the film refrain from becoming as disgusting as the marketing appears to be hyping it up as being. If placed next to Big Mouth, the film is somewhat tame, and mercifully so. By the third act, the sporadic reemergence of sex toys as a comedic Chekhov’s Gun (the boys assuming these are weapons being kept by parents to fight off intruders) becomes groan inducing, as the film increasingly centres the shifting dynamics of the core friendship to much greater effect.
Another reason the film proves to be more rewarding than may initially be apparent is how the narrative shrinks the stakes down to child size; the crushing depression of being a child of divorce, the need to conform to social norms in spite of following your own dreams, and the innate desire for wanting to be seen as cool by peers. Stupnitsky and Eisenberg’s screenplay understands the mentality of children, knowing that even a millisecond of social embarrassment can have major ramifications on your life - and to the film’s credit, it never stops taking this seriously. It manages to make something like a child’s fight to drink a single sip of beer in order to stop getting teased by classmates worth investing in, grounding it within something far more impactful than a mere lowbrow gag.
Good Boys is in UK cinemas from August 16