Three adolescent friends go on a series of adventures in advance of their first coed party.
Directed by Gene Stupnitsky
Starring Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon
Review by Jon Kissel
Good Boys exists first as a comedy, and in an era where TV has jumped feet-first into the awkwardness of this particular age, it couldn’t have emerged at a worse time. Big Mouth and PEN15 are two of the funniest shows currently airing, and both have found workarounds that push the envelope in a way that Good Boys, even with its R rating, simply cannot. Instead of the aggressive filthiness of those shows, Good Boys makes its bones by playing the leads’ innocence off whatever they find in Thor’s parents’ closet or on the Internet. The joke isn’t found in what they’re doing or saying, but in what they don’t know or are tentatively discovering. It also lives off of pratfalls and physical comedy, executed by stuntwomen who have the frames of 12-year old boys. Coming from Eisenberg and Stupnitsky, who previously crafted the comparatively small humor of The Office, the largeness of the jokes gets chuckles at best. On the part of the actors, the vulgar dialogue doesn’t feel authentic coming from them, which may have been the point. Because Lucas is the most earnest of the three, and because he’s the least prone to casual cursing, Williams comes off the best as a kid who delights in his upright goofiness. Max and Thor are more conflicted about what they want and the actors aren’t so skilled that they can evince that conflict in their performances.
If the film is only moderately successful as a comedy, it’s emotionally pitched at the right volume for cinematic depictions of this age group. A truism for movies is that ‘sad kids are sad,’ and there’s few things as affecting as when a film nails a particular kind of hangdog juvenile unhappiness. Good Boys isn’t some Russian despair-fest or a French coming-of-age tale, but that impulse exists here in small doses. The film ends with the Beanbag Boys downgraded from best friends to friendly peers, but, per the aforementioned tween intimacy, that final group hug, turning from a bro hug into a clinging and tearful one, is powerful. Twelve seems like too young an age to be nostalgic and wistful, but Good Boys sells that these kids understand the value of what they lost and could very well never replicate it, especially in the case of Max who’s getting closer to the aloof cool kids. Lucas will be fine, as those nerds on the anti-bullying surely hug each other all the time.
It wouldn’t be a 2019 film about boys if there wasn’t some kind of comment on toxic masculinity, and Good Boys is no exception. The title is more than in ironic joke, but is instead an honest depiction of who these kids are when they start the movie, especially in the fever dreams of adults fearing the youth and their constant connection to porn and social media. While the Beanbag Boys might be good now, the film asks the viewer to imagine if the fraternity bros they run into weren’t themselves good boys only a few years earlier. If so, what happened in the interim to change them into the type who would triumphantly tout the dropping of charges, and will the same thing happen to our boys? The film exists on too small a time scale to answer that question, but that it’s even mildly interested in this adds to its stature as something greater than a raunchy comedy.
If I hadn’t recently read that article, who knows if I’d be granting Good Boys all this leeway, but it also lands on me in a period of time where I’m thinking about my social circles in a way not unlike how the Beanbag Boys question their own. The idea that they’re only friends because of choices made for them is something that they find unsettling, and it’s an idea that I’d imagine a lot of people think about in darker times. Are high school sweethearts together only because their parents happened to get a job in the area? Were they sent to the high school where they met because of a restructuring of the district, placing their relationship atop some bureaucratic line drawing? Are shared interests more important then proximity, especially when the former takes work while the latter has inertia and fear of the unknown holding it in place? What if all the people you’ve run into at Atlanta film events are asocial weirdos packed with James Bond trivia and you feel increasingly uncomfortable talking about film and culture amongst prior friends who have responsibilities that include keeping people alive and supersede whether or not the upcoming Scorsese film is going to say anything new that he hasn’t said already? I’m not hyperventilating, you are! Anyways, Good Boys is short for a wide-release, contains some real insights into the age group, and has prompted me to add a book to my Amazon wish list. I think about better movies less, so it’s doing something right. B-