Gene Stupnitsky’s tween comedy Good Boys is the testosterone-fueled answer to Olivia Wilde’s recent estrogen-soaked Booksmart. Expectedly, it’s the more juvenile/boorish of the two films – but not necessarily to its detriment. In fact, the boys behind Good Boys – Stupnitsky and his long-time collaborator/co-writer Lee Eisenberg – seem to hold back, as if careful not to offend too much in their attempts to subvert. Instead of going to fourth base, those boys seem hopelessly stuck in second. Call it lil’ Superbad.
“…skipping school, two girls hell-bent on tripping on molly, a full-on paint-gun shoot-out…”
The keyword here being lil’. Good Boys’ three heroes – Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) – are barely in their teens, their voices still unbroken by the perils of adulthood. Very much aware of their own raging hormones, the self-proclaimed Beanbag Boys mimic the adults. They (attempt to) curse, (sort of) drink beer, (kind of) deal drugs and misuse sex toys (as well as complex grown-up terminology). All these purportedly shocking elements are introduced, but then dissipate without the intended effect. An R-rated comedy centered on 12-year olds was supposed to be a purposefully-contentious subject. The filmmakers manage to side-step controversy, coating all the “edgy” proceedings with a thick blanket of sugary sentiment (and lessons aplenty), which renders the question: why do it at all?
The plot is almost beyond the point, replicating the “get-to-the-party-to-get-laid” scheme of the two aforementioned comedies. Each boy has an agenda/background. Max has a crush on a girl. Lucas’ parents are going through a divorce. Thor has aspirations of singing in the choir but is afraid to be labeled a nerd (or “sippy cup” to be exact). Max stealing – and consequently losing – his father’s (Will Forte) high-end drone leads to a series of misadventures, which involve skipping school, two girls hell-bent on tripping on molly, a full-on paint-gun shoot-out, and an extended cameo by none other than Stephen Merchant. Predictably, it all ends at a party, where our heroes come of age.
“Stupnitsky and Eisenberg know their way around a joke, having worked on TV’s The Office and Hello Ladies.”
There’s not much momentum to speak of. Think of it as more of a collection of sketches about our heroes getting into mishaps for the sake of the plot and our amusement. The film doesn’t shy away from scatological humor, but it’s also intermittently sharp and quick-witted. Stupnitsky and Eisenberg know their way around a joke, having worked on TV’s The Office and Hello Ladies. All three of the leads do commendable jobs, their timing, for the most part, spot-on. Certain aspects really do work: the trio’s sweet bond; the “tribute-to-Bowfinger” crossing of a highway; that CPR doll… But then there’s the forced insertion of relevant themes (feminism, bullying), the repeated disclaimers that “drugs are bad,” the schmaltz, and the neat conclusion to it all.
It’s not surprising that Seth Rogen is one of the film’s co-producers. His particular brand of humor is all over this; the Rogen Stamp, if you will. It is, however, disappointing that he failed to infuse the film with the same “go-for-broke,” anarchic vibe prevalent in his recent TV producing efforts (see: Preacher and The Boys). For all its claims to be rebellious, Good Boys is surprisingly tame by today’s standards.