Film Review: ‘Good Boys’ Uses Raunch to Cover Up Its Sweetness

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“Good Boys” gets into lots of bad trouble. It’s no surprise that “Superbad” writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are among the producers of the film, along with Jonah Hill. “Good Boys” owes a lot of to that 2007 comedy, as it revolves around a similar R-rated quest, albeit with younger stars. Much like its protagonists, “Good Boys” is much more immature. The film finds sweetness within its characters and features a compelling message. It bogs itself down with raunch that feels more tiresome and repetitive rather than hilarious, fresh, and shocking.

The “Beanbag Boys” – Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) – are headed to sixth grade. This transition brings with it a chance for the boys to up their status among their classmates. Max gets invited to a “kissing party,” where he will finally be able to have his first kiss with his crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis). He convinces the cool kids to let his friends join. In an attempt to learn how to kiss, the “Beanbag Boys” take Max’s Dad’s (Will Forte) drone out for a spin to spy on his high school neighbor, Hannah (Molly Gordon). Hannah and her best friend Lily (Midori Francis) notice the drone. They hold it hostage, thinking the boys were perverts. In retaliation, the boys steal Molly’s purse, which has drugs in it.

The set-up spins out of control and grows more and more forced as the movie goes on. The film fully underserves both Hannah and Lily as the plot drones on. The girls exist merely as crazed, empty antagonists that chase our titular “good boys” into the next outlandish set-piece. This grows tired as the formula gets repeated ad nauseam. It’s not the only time the movie repeats itself with diminishing returns. There’s very little to the film beyond the lure of seeing sixth-graders hurl expletives and naively play with sex toys. The three leads deliver each punchline with wide-eyed enthusiasm and gusto that proves infectious the first few times. Yet, once one realizes the movie has few other things on its mind, the jokes grow stale despite ample energy.

Despite the repetition, all three “Good Boys” deliver very good performances. We already knew Jacob Tremblay had a compelling screen presence after “Room.” In this film, he translates these skills to great comic timing. Both Williams and Noon also exhibit similar skills at delivering the comedy. All three actors find the sweetness behind the raunch. Their characters may curse up a storm and take sips of beer, but there are a genuine heart and niceness to each of them. Just as the title suggests, they are “good boys” who get caught up in some bad shenanigans.

Much like “Pen15,” “Good Boys” understands how low stakes in real life can feel like the end of the world. An embarrassing moment at school, lousy nickname, or social faux pas can trigger extreme anxiety. The best moments in the film’s script (by Lee Eisenberg and director Gene Stupnitsky) understands this. When the film shows the social hierarchy of sixth grade, the humor comes alive. The kids don’t need to run across a freeway or get into a fight at a frat party to make the film exciting. If the movie had hewed closer to the drama within the school or the sixth graders, the jokes might have landed more, and the situations would have resonated more.

Still, the most resonant message in “Good Boys” comes later in the movie. Each of our three foul-mouthed heroes has developed competing interests. For Max, his crush on Brixlee represents his maturation into puberty at a faster rate than his childhood friends. Meanwhile, Thor shows real excitement and talent in singing, while Lucas wants nothing more than to uphold the rules. Hannah and Lily tell the boys that Kindergarten friendships develop because kids live close to each other or because their parents are friends. After nearly an hour of antics, the Beanbag Boys must wrestle with whether or not they are lifelong friends or childhood friends. These insights into growing up separate “Good Boys” from a mere raunch-fest.

“Good Boys” opens on Friday, August 16th, distributed by Universal Pictures.

GRADE: (★★½)

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