Now are we fifth graders? Or are we sixth graders?!
While that beckoning battle cry is only uttered once, its intoxicating effect can be felt at every nonsensical turn in Good Boys, an hour-and-a-half long excuse to hear preteens curse without having to prepare any sort of punishment. The unofficial, perhaps surrogate prequel to Superbad, Gene Stupnitsky’s goofball big screen debut taps into a similar plight of pubescent confusion but sets the dial back a few more years.
Don’t let that fool you. They may be younger, but they’re just as vulgar.
This hard-R-rated comedy strikes up a buddying trio of fresh-faced sixth-graders, Max (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon). Just off the brink of elementary school and more than likely the talk, they’re prepared to take on this confusing time hand-in-hand as the Bean Bag Boys. But the bigger desks and the longer hallways aren’t everything that’s new to them; girls are beginning to take on a new role in their life, too.
The group’s leader, Max, is a little bit more, how do you say, “developed” than his two pals. And the film uses that fact to quickly establish its intentionally awkward position, as Max’s father (Will Forte) catches him preparing to masturbate and proceeds to rejoice over the milestone. But preparing may be too giving of a description. Unlike Superbad, this script, co-written by Stupnitsky and Bad Teacher collaborator Lee Eisenberg, relies heavily on all three boys’ delusions about the sex-filled world they’re on the cusp of breaching.
With that said, it’s not as if the marketing has been shy about that approach. While it’s a rare case in my eyes – I’ll almost always argue that a teaser shouldn’t be the basis for a dismissal – for Good Boys, what you see out there in the trailers is exactly what you’ll see in the theaters. If foul-mouthed children toppling over their ignorance and falling right into the arms of some crude punchline isn’t for you, then you’ll have a few extra dollars left in your pocket this week.
But the core characteristics of this film – particularly the boys’ ages – are able to twist the horndog coming-of-age subgenre into a surprisingly fresh experience. You’ve seen a 12-year-old boy practice kissing before – something Max and company have to do once they’re invited to the popular kids’ “kissing party” – with a pillow. Or maybe even a CPR doll. But what if the thing they think is a CPR doll is actually their parents’ blow-up sex toy (“it’s sticky”)?
Packed beyond capacity with these sorts of jokes, the misadventure comes once the kids realize researching how to kiss isn’t as easy as they thought. When porn nearly brings them to vomit, they decide to spy on the neighbor girls (a finely tuned pair, Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) and a college-aged boyfriend (Josh Caras) with Max’s father’s drone. The girls snag the fly spy out of the sky, and a snowballing plot ensues, catapulting the Bean Bag Boys from their tiny Google-capable dilemma to a Frogger-like race across a highway and a frat house in the midst of recruiting.
Yes, this series of events is dauntingly ridiculous – I almost felt silly having to type them out – but even so, they help the film home in on a 12-year-old’s perspective of life. Everything around these young men feels enormous and yet, still out of reach. Max’s ultimate goal – to kiss his equally shy crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis) – is simple in theory, but just as our insecurities and anxieties probably pushed us away from making a similar move on the blacktop, Max ends up with a bottle full of Molly. Both have the same undesired effect.
And what’s even more impressive is that the script’s intelligent enough to not only understand these young people would have varying priorities but give each one enough attention and validity as well. While Max is busy making wedding plans in his head, Lucas is facing the harsh reality of his parents’ (a touching Lil Rel Howery and Retta) splitting up, and Thor’s struggling to balance his desire for popularity with his desire to sing.
But while the film flourishes when these standpoints are at the forefront, as a comedy, it’s unfortunately rather one-note. Over and over we obverse Max, Lucas, and Thor – all superbly acted, by the way – make total fools out of themselves, often to a disgusting and vile degree. And while I’m sure any parent reading this has gotten a bad impression of these kids, Good Boys isn’t an ironic title. The Bean Bag Boys are exactly that; they listen to their parents (for the most part), say no to drugs, have trouble lying, and again, are completely clueless – an eighth grader convinced them that girls stick tampons up their butts to keep babies from coming out.
Though Good Boys may be a little insecure in establishing who its audience exactly is – 12-year-olds should certainly not attend, while parents who could find something of use from it may also find the repetition tiresome – I think it’s safe to say that you know who you are.
Good Boys successfully exploits a newfound ground between crudeness and innocence, but nearly runs it dry.