In my 2019 Movie Catch-Up post, I ragged on how reviewers just don’t seem to like comedies these days, most notably in the cases of “Stuber” and “Shaft,” two superb comedies that got the short end of the aggregate stick. Gene Stupnitsky’s adolescent comedy “Good Boys” is the complete opposite, sitting atop an 80 percent fresh Rotten Tomatoes score that I feel like is wholly undeserved, and the site’s critic’s consensus seems to agree with me.
“‘Good Boys’ is undermined by an eagerness to repeatedly indulge in profane humor, but its appealing cast and ultimately thoughtful message often shine through,” it reads.
I’m not sure what part of the movie’s message they thought was thoughtful — perhaps critics are filling in “Good Boys”‘s lack of substance with fond memories from Bo Burnham’s breakout adolescent comedy-drama “Eighth Grade” that recently put this genre back on the map; nor do I understand why a movie that directly undermines itself should receive a certifiably fresh score.
“Good Boys” follows three 12-year-old boys: Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams), as they grasp tweendom. And I must say, their performances are the one thing I can’t fault in this film, as their characters feel like real kids who are growing up in generation Z. They react the way kids would when they get in trouble, they understand barely anything about the adult world, and most of the members in the audience probably knows some kids who are just like them, though they do all have simple, one-note character traits (which, to be fair, kids sometimes have at that age, especially if they’re obsessed with one particular thing). Max likes girls and is crushing hard on one in particular named Brixlee (Millie Davis), which drives the plot of the movie; Thor is obsessed with his popularity and wants to be a singer in a musical; and Lucas is a mamma’s boy and blabber mouth who cares more about being safe and happy than what other people perceive of him.
The boys get into a series of bizarre misadventures when Max is invited to a kissing party by popular kid Soren (Izaac Wang) and is allowed to bring Thor and Lucas with him. In preparation, they decide to spy on the older girls next door using Max’s father’s drone, which he has for work and is strictly off limits to the kids. They use the done anyways and it gets captured by the girls, but the boys end up snatching one of their backpacks which has drugs (Molly) in it. The rest of the movie is a convoluted mess, as the boys first agree to trade the drugs for the drone, then lose the drugs, then have to buy more drugs to exchange for the drone — all so that Max — and by extension the others — can get permission to go the party.
*Spoilers* It doesn’t go as planned and Max gets grounded. But they decide to sneak him out to go to the party anyways, undermining the entire first half of the movie. In fact, like most things one would do as a child, nothing they do has any real consequence, other than serve to reinforce the sense of friendship they have — which even they admit is fragile, as they realized that they were only friends because they liked each other, went to the same school and their parents were friends. It is heavily implied that after the events of the film, they might move apart.
To the critics who feel like there is some great underlying message to the film, I ask: What message? That childhood is fleeting, and nothing really matters, except the friendships you keep, which in of themselves are also fleeting? Analyzing “Good Boys” is like looking into a shallow well, trying to find depth where there is none.
Which is fine. Not all comedies have to be deep. We primarily watch them to laugh, and humor comes in all shapes and sizes. But even the humor in the film isn’t that good, relying on the same gimmick of the kids reacting to and doing adult things that they don’t understand, like mistaking a sex doll for a CPR doll, to thinking a dildo is a weapon, to mistaking children’s vitamins for drugs, to thinking their parent’s anal beads are a necklace, all of which are funny for a joke or two but quickly wear out their welcome.
Though I must admit that the verbal humor lands more times than not, especially when you consider that there are plenty of kids who talk the way these kids do. The film perfectly emulates kids talking to other kids, completely uncensored, using words they don’t know the meaning of, which leads to some pretty funny exchanges, especially when they are overheard by adults.
But it’s not enough to sustain a whole film, and it suffers from a gross amount of misdirection which I don’t know was intentional or not. Sure, children are often clueless and don’t really know what they want, and in a way, it is fitting that a film about children would also be directionless and not know what it wants. But at the very least, the film could’ve given us some very well-directed memorable moments that speak to the truth of what it’s like to be a child growing up today, or some really well put-together jokes that would elicit huge audience reactions, but unfortunately the film is filled with flimsy f-bomb jokes and other humor that is no more insightful than a fart joke.
This is one of the few comedy movies I saw in theaters this year were barely anyone laughed. I’ve seen more comedic reactions from this year’s Marvel films.
“Good Boys” gets a 2/10