"Good Boys" is a thoughtful comedy with a bad plot.
Misappropriated swear words, penis jokes and awkward encounters with foreign sex objects are the narrative elements you would expect in an R-rated romp about male adolescents. Particularly when the movie’s poster is emblazoned with the words “from the guys who brought you Superbad, Neighbors, and Sausage Party.” Good Boys, produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, incorporates these signature amusements with care and sentiment to depict the lived realities of tween boys.
The film follows fifth graders and best friends Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) as they plan to attend a kissing party with their classmates but most importantly Max’s crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis). The boys, all novices to kissing, use Max’s father’s drone to spy on his teenage neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon) and her boyfriend Benji (Josh Caras) to see how the act is done. To their dismay, Hannah and her friend Lilly (Midori Francis) spot the drone, destroy it and confront the boys for their creepy behavior. Lucas leaves the interaction with Hannah’s purse that contains molly, kicking off a series of pursuits and negotiations between the boys and the girls, the boys’ goal being to replace Max’s father’s drone before the party. And the girls just want their molly back in time for a Kendrick Lamar concert.
As you can see, the stakes in this plot are remarkably low, which is fine for a film about children whose biggest concerns are having fun and avoiding parental punishment. However, I found myself forgetting and, frankly, not caring about the characters’ main objectives throughout the film and instead getting wrapped up in the ridiculously delightful dialogue between the three protagonists.
Good Boys’ biggest strength, by far, is its ability to capture young, male curiosity and adorable naivete without exploiting their adult encounters for cheap, jaw-dropping moments. The film’s running joke is the boys’s repeated misuse of Thor’s parents’ sex toys, mistaking them for protection gear, a CPR dummy, a playground swing and even gifting one of the items as jewelry. What’s most endearing is that, as much as the three young protagonists liberally reference their junk and other sexual things, they also understand or at least are aware of the logistical parts of sex, namely consent.
The idea of consent and, more broadly, respecting women and girls, is laced throughout Good Boys, beginning when Max tells the boys that have to ask the “CPR dummy’s” permission before kissing it. Then Hannah and Lilly scold the boys for “disrespecting women” when their privacy is invaded by the drone in a rather intense way that seems slightly robotic. Nevertheless, their words invoke an impassioned response from Max that he cares about women. In the third act, when the boys make it to the party, Max confidently walks up to Brixlee in the manner of a macho male lead ready to plant one on his girl. Instead, he stops a couple of feet from her face and politely asks if he can kiss her.
There’s also a more conspicuous moment when the boys go to a frat house to buy drugs from Benji. White, hyper-masculine frat bros are standard comedic fodder and social commentary in most movies that feature them (i.e. Neighbors) and in Good Boys as well. In this scene, they feel blatantly symbolic of who we dread these well-intentioned boys will become if they ever reject the social lessons they learned as kids. Max, Lucas and Thor all seem like properly raised boys, representative of a different, more cognizant time, with access to their emotions and a willingness to practice consent and respect for personal boundaries, making the juxtaposition of them standing in the dim, Solo Cup-ornamented house with seemingly violent hazing occurring in the basement feel especially poignant. There’s even a moment when a frat member enters a room exclaiming, “she dropped the charges!”
Aside from all of this, the biggest lesson in Good Boys is about growing up and growing apart, which struck me as the most puzzling and least realistic part of the film. For a group of pubescent boys, Max, Lucas and Thor have an exceptionally healthy relationship. They cry in front of each other, eagerly help each other in times of need, and encourage each other to go after what they want, whether it be the lead role in the school production of Rock of Ages or a crush. About three quarters into the film, they’re confronted with the idea that they’re holding each other back from going on their individual paths, their paths being a video game Lucas is obsessed with that Max and Thor don’t want to play, Thor’s part in the school musical and Max’s new girlfriend. The fact that they have one less thing in common with one another and feel the need to immediately disband makes little to no sense. They also live in the same neighborhood and attend the same school. The film seems to understand this considering that the boys reconcile their friendship at the end. But for a film about coming of age, this plot point meant to emphasize that feels hasty and nonsensical.
My final comment about Good Boys is that this movie has no idea how to write female characters or make them funny. The tone in which screenwriters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky write Hannah and Lilly’s dialogue is uneven and uncooked the entire film. They’re cardboard cutouts of teenage girls who learned feminism from Beyonce and verbally announce “Time’s up, motherfuckers!” when confronted with what they perceive is misogyny. They go from that sort of heightened aggression when they first encounter the boys to being sweet and maternal by the end of the film, even when they’re high off their asses. Lilly briefly engages in some physical comedy. But other than that, the screenwriters seem to rely solely on the not-so-ridiculous-in-2019 scenario of women trying to get drugs in place of actual humor. The only woman who will make you laugh in this film is Lucas's mother played by the hilarious Retta, and it's literally just her going, "Mm."
Good Boys is thoughtful and delightful film that earns all of its points in subtext and - with the exception of its female characters - dialogue only. Will you have to remind yourself what these characters’ missions are throughout the film? Yes. Will you care which way their missions result? No. But folks who watch this film will be impressed by the performances and incessantly charmed by the titular boys with all their stupidity but mostly affection for one another.