This review was written for CLTure.org.
From the very first red band teaser for Good Boys, it was perfectly clear the film would be an outrageous, profanity-laden adventure filled with slapstick humor and plenty of dirty jokes.
But the thing that makes the nonstop punchlines even funnier is that most of them go right over the heads of the R-rated film’s middle school-aged leads. For the first time ever, the MPAA rating was forced to specify “all involving tweens,” and that’s what differentiates Good Boys from every other raunchy comedy.
The film stars 12-year-olds Jacob Tremblay and Keith L. Williams alongside 13-year-old Brady Noon as three sixth graders looking for ways to become popular. While the plot may be nothing more than Superbad junior, the tweenage twist is enough to make the kids’ hijinks feel fresh and exciting.
When the cool kids invite Max (Tremblay) and his best friends Lucas (Williams) and Thor (Noon) to a “kissing party,” the inexperienced tweens panic and hatch a plan to help them learn the ins and outs of liplocking like a professional. Max borrows his dad’s (Will Forte) drone to spy on his neighbor, Hannah (Molly Gordon), hoping to catch a glimpse of her smooching with her boyfriend. Only the boys aren’t as sneaky as they think they are, and Hannah captures the drone in an attempt to teach the boys a lesson on privacy. When begging for forgiveness proves futile, Thor steals Hannah’s purse to use as a bargaining tool; but unbeknownst to him, the bag is filled with drugs. Soon negotiations with Hannah break down, and with only a few hours until the biggest night of their lives (and Hannah hot on their trail), the boys must figure out a way to replace the drone before Max’s dad notices it’s gone.
What ensues is pure ridiculousness – even if it does follow the same blueprint of every teen, or in this case tween, party movie. We’ve seen it done better in Superbad and smarter in Booksmart, but we’ve never seen it taken to the extremes that Good Boys reaches. Whether it’s the pre-teens obliviously passing around their parents’ sex toys or using said toys to hold a police officer hostage, Good Boys truly takes the obscenities to the next level.
Lee Eisenberg and director Gene Stupnitsky’s script is chock-full of one-liners, with joke after joke coming in hot, most of which hit their mark. However, some of the punchlines fall victim to the rapid fire tempo, getting drowned out by the audience’s raucous laughter. After the initial shock of 12-year-olds dropping F-bombs wears off, the humor starts to fall into a somewhat repetitive cycle of gimmicks.
When the tweens aren’t misunderstanding something sexual or suffering generic slapstick gags, Keith L. Williams’ performance as Lucas provides the most refreshing changes of pace. As the crew’s most wholesome member, Lucas’s biggest laughs don’t come when he violently dislocates his shoulder, but instead when he spills the beans to his parents or enlists the help of the school’s anti-bullying committee. Williams may take the backseat to Tremblay as the film’s lead, but of the three pre-teens, he certainly shows the biggest comedic chops.
After breaking hearts in 2015’s Room, Tremblay is still as cute as ever, even if he is swearing like a sailor. Good Boys features him in a completely new light, but his charisma and ability to control the screen remains unchanged. On top of its young stars, Good Boys also features a who’s who of adult cameos, with the likes of Will Forte, Retta, Lil Rel Howery and Stephen Merchant all stopping by for a few quick laughs.
What’s most shocking about Good Boys, more so than any of its gags, is how genuine it feels. For something so incredibly vulgar, it’s simultaneously surprisingly wholesome. Nearly every raunchy, coming-of-age adventure of the past decade has blended humor and heart, but thanks to Good Boys’ pint-sized leads, it feels particularly pure this time. Despite their foul mouths, Max, Lucas and Thor still maintain their childhood innocence, yet to be corrupted by the world. All they care about is doing the right thing, being nice to everyone and spending time with their best friends. For a majority of the film, it seems like nothing can come between the three inseparable friends, until a third-act argument ultimately brings about the traditional coming-of-age plot points. Even then, the boys’ youthful sensitivity adds a twist, as they each bawl their eyes out, instead of compartmentalizing everything like their high school counterparts often do.
While its general premise is nothing new, the dramatic age shift keeps Good Boys from feeling too recycled, and makes it a worthy entry in the pantheon of coming-of-age party flicks.
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.