" with tweens must haveor at least should havebeen how "Good Boys" was originally pitched by writer-director Gene Stupnitsky and co-writer Lee Eisenberg. In addition to sharing producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, they also tell a similar story, that of best friends at a turning point in their relationships as they face growing up and becoming their own separate persons. Undeniably ribald yet surprisingly sweet, the firmly R-rated "Good Boys" rings just as true as that 2007 teen comedy while holding up decidedly better within the context of its more inclusive, post-#TimesUp climate.
12-year-olds Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) have been thick since kindergarten, but now they're in middle school, on the verge of adolescence, and things are getting a whole lot more complicated. When the newly girl-crazy Max is invited by cool-kid Soren (Isaac Wang) to a party where Spin the Bottle is going to be played, he sees it as his chance to finally get closer to classmate crush Brixlee (Millie Davis)after fully asking her consent, of course. Thor, increasingly self-conscious over his love for singing and an upcoming audition for a school production of "Rock of Ages," and the rule-following Lucas, grappling over his parents' impending divorce, do not know their invites have only come by proxy. When Max finds his dad's expensive drone suddenly held hostage by teenage neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon) and friend Lillu (Midori Francis) after a spying mission to learn how to kiss goes terribly wrong, it is the catalyst for a harrowing day-long odyssey for Max, Thor and Lucas involving skipping school, pocketing a beer, trading Molly for the drone, and one startlingly lifelike "CPR doll."
The fear walking into "Good Boys" was that ingenuity and cleverness would take a backseat to little more than a barrage of four-letter words spoken by pre-teens. Kids behaving badly played for laughs can get old quick; there needs to be a purpose and logic behind said behavior, and anything less would likely wear out its welcome. It is to Stupnitsky and Eisenberg's credit, then, that they balance their coarse, over-the-top material with an emotionally honest throughline. The results are an ideal blending of honest 12-year-old behavior and naughty, adventurous wish-fulfillment. The script is altogether smarter and more likable than many viewers will be expecting. There are big laughs to be had and some sharp dialogue exchanges, but what proves most memorable by the end is its, dare it be said, poignant look at the evolution of friendships as children come of age and their lives and interests begin to move them in different directions.
Running a brisk 89 minutes when so many comedies these days needlessly push the two-hour mark, "Good Boys" is all heart in spite of its vulgarity. The characters are not written as savvy adults in children's bodies, but genuine kids whose curiosity and know-it-all attitudes reveals a realistic lack of experience and awareness. Themes of acceptance and anti-bullying are appreciated, as well. Indeed, this is anything but a mean-spirited film. Jacob Tremblay (2017's "The Book of Henry
") is an intuitive young actorhe deservedly received various accolades for 2015's "Room
" before the age of 10but there was no way to predict what a natural he would be at comic timing. "Good Boys" is his first comedy, but hopefully it won't be his last; he's terrific as Max, diving into his bawdy yet vulnerable role and clearly having a blast. This also goes for ingratiating co-stars Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams, perfect matches as Thor and Lucas. The chemistry between Tremblay, Noon and Williams is charming and tangibly felt, where the story of these three best friends culminates proving touching and sincere even amidst their naïve confusion over a sex swing. These kids will be all right.