Good Boys

2019-08-30 07:08
 
Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams i

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Max, Lucas and Thor are a group of sixth grade boys who call themselves the Bean Bag Boys (because they all had been bags when they met) and they have done everything together since they were little. After Max accidentally destroys his father’s beloved drone and fears being grounded for life and, therefore, missing the "kissing party" that he was to attend the next night where he would finally make his move on the girl on whom he has a crush, the three ditch school in a last-ditch effort to get to the nearest mall to get a new one before his dad gets home. Things get even more complicated when they realize they have accidentally stolen the drugs of a couple of persistent teenage girls.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

The entirety of Good Boys is based on a single, very simple premise: wouldn’t it be funny to watch a bunch of prepubescent kids swear up a storm and talk confidently about sex and other adult topics without ever actually knowing anything about them. As premises for a feature-length comedies go, it’s not exactly overly promising because, really, just how far can you stretch so flimsy and so monotonous a joke?

The answer, as it turns out, is pretty damn far.

Good Boys has received rather mixed reviews but what writer/directors Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg have achieved with the film is actually a whole lot more impressive than it looks. Yes, the entire film’s humour is mined from that single joke, but like the best jazz musicians, they are able to riff on that single idea and make it seem varied enough that it somehow never gets old. Good Boys is very, very funny at the beginning and it’s no less so at the end. That the film is less than ninety-minutes long (unlike Superbad, which is pretty much the same movie but, crucially, with older leads and a longer running time) also helps in ensuring that the joke never outstays its welcome.

It’s miraculous enough that Good Boys is as funny as it is (and, as a comedy, that’s all it really needs to be) but it’s also genuinely sweet and surprisingly good-natured. Its humour is pretty damn filthy, to be sure, but the way these cute, innocent kids deliver the jokes in a way that at least suggests that the actors themselves didn’t really understand what they were saying or what some of those, um, “toys” they were handling really were, makes it mostly come across as a bit school-boy-naughty, rather than genuinely cynical and vile. It’s a very thin and deadly line between the two and, major credit to Stupnitsky and Eisenberg for pulling it off. Their big-screen credits are rather less than impressive (Bad Teacher, Year One) but their years working on the US Office (and its own thin line between funny and embarrassing) has clearly paid off.

That good-naturedeness doesn’t just apply to its hard-R-rated humour (or hard-16-rated in South Africa, I guess, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it) but to it also working as a very solid little coming of age story about the way friendships change at you grow older. It isn’t in the same class as most of the stone cold classic coming-of-age stories that have come our way over the past few years (The Way, Way Back; Ladybird; Booksmart) but it is effective and warm-hearted. Again, this is a much harder to trick to pull off in this sort of film than it looks and they make it look easy.

Much of the film’s success undoubtedly comes down to the three young actors – Jacob Tremblay, Keith L Williams and Brady Noon – cast as our three young heroes. They are bolstered by some veteran, adult comedians in extended cameos of various lengths (Will Forte, Stephen Merchant, Sam Richardson) and Molly Gordon follows up her scene-stealing role in Booksmart as the boys’ exasperated and somehow rather likeable teenage-girl tormentor, but the entire film revolves around them, and they acquit themselves nicely. Interestingly, though, the performances they give here are not the most assured in the world, and they really do seem oblivious to the meaning much of what they’re saying on-screen, but in this case, this is actually a strength. Not just because this fits the characters to a tee and not even just because it helps give the film that sweet, innocent charm but that it allays at least some of my moral concerns about having such young kids delivering such unabashedly adult material: it at least looks like their parents and the filmmakers did something to shield them from the wildly age-inappropriate material.

One of my more esteemed film-critic colleagues seemed to disagree strongly as, when comparing notes at the next screening, he said that he found the film to be "incredibly irresponsible" and there undoubtedly is a moral argument to be made on whether such young actors have any business being in this sort of film at all. I, however, feel that there is at least some indication that the kids were at least somewhat “protected” because, without knowing anything of what went on behind the scenes in the making of Good Boys, the young actors seem to be every bit as ignorant of the "adult situations" going on around them as the characters they play.   

Regardless, as a piece of comic filmmaking, at least, I for one have very little to complain about Good Boys. It’s made with real skill and doesn’t allow its crude humour to overtake its fundamental sweetness, but, most importantly, it made me laugh all the way through it. And if that isn’t a sign of a good comedy, I don’t know what is.

It sure as anything ain’t for young kids, though!


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