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In an era when superheroes, horror, and musical dramas are thriving, one genre that has been doing a good amount of floundering is the R-rated big studio comedy. It was only 10 to 15 years ago that audiences were flocking to see titles like The Hangover, Wedding Crashers, Superbad, and Knocked Up, but the landscape has now totally changed. With rare exception, these aren’t the movies that make $100 million at the domestic box office anymore.
The exact cause of this lull is debatable, but there is one bright spot in the lackluster atmosphere. While conversation is dominated by talking points about poor quality and audience disinterest, it allows for certain titles to emerge like diamonds in the rough. They may not have made blockbuster money coming out in the last few years, but we can still appreciate the hell out of films like Blockers and The Night Before. And while it’s too early to say how it will ultimately perform, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys is a new title to add to that short list of fantastic new additions to the genre.
The general premise is one that we’ve seen countless times, as it’s structured like your average coming-of-age story, but what makes this one special and different is that it’s not about kids graduating from high school and starting their lives as adults (which we’ve seen hundreds of times, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to this summer’s Booksmart). Instead, this is about the trials and tribulations of going through adolescence – and while there are some recognizable themes and character arcs, what normally reads familiar feels fresh and repurposed with new context, and the film is able to unwind some unique, hilarious scenarios.
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) are introduced as an inseparable trio of 12-year-olds – a.k.a. the Bean Bag Boys – who have been friends as long as they can remember. They are starting to grow up into very different teenagers, however, and their differences start to be spotlighted when Max is invited to a make-out party at the house of the most popular kid in class.
Though they each express it in their own way – Max wears his earnestness on his sleeve; Thor fakes as a tough guy, but is full of hot air; and Lucas possesses a totally black and white view of morality – one thing the three leads still share in common is a very real innocence. That becomes a real problem in the face of taking part in a more mature activity. These are boys who have never kissed a girl before, and they are terrified to be exposed to their classmates as being totally uncool. The solution is that they need to watch and study those with experience.
The good news is that Max has access to a drone that his dad (Will Forte) uses for work, and a neighbor, Hannah (Molly Gordon), who is regularly seen necking with her boyfriend. The bad news is that an argument over the controls results in a crash landing and Hannah capturing the device. So not only do they still need to prepare for the most important party of their young lives, they also must try and get the drone back to Max’s house before his dad gets back from a business trip.
The biggest concern one might have with this premise is that the movie could potentially keep hitting the same note over and over again – specifically that the kids keep getting into situations and involved with things they don’t fully understand. But while there is a lot of comedy that operates in that sphere, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky really do expand beyond that arena by legitimately exploring the experience of being 12 years old.
It starts with simple things – like the characters seeing a four mile bike/walk to the local mall as an impossibly long journey, or believing more than three sips of a beer makes you an alcoholic – but it also digs surprisingly deep into subjects like the motivations behind relationships that you have at that age. As Hannah tells the trio in one revelatory moment, friends you have when you are young are dictated less by common interests than they are geographic vicinity and parents getting along well. While providing big laughs along the way, Good Boys is all about its leads growing to understand that, and it’s honestly weird (in a good way) how emotional it gets.
Poignant as it can be at times, though, it’s comedy that is always steering the ship, and the movie is littered with fantastic and memorable sequences. Sometimes it goes big, like when Max, Thor, and Lucas find themselves needing to cross a freeway, or get in a paintball battle in a frat house, but it also gets huge laughs with more simple setups – like the boys unknowingly taking inventory of sex toys, or running afoul of an off-duty cop (Sam Richardson) in a convenience store. It plays at many speeds without veering too far away from reality, and is consistently funny.
Part of what makes the movie such a surprise is just how impressive the three leads are – particularly knowing there are plenty of adult stars who struggle under the weight of carrying a big studio comedy. Each role demands something special from the actor, and not only are all three young performers exceptionally well cast, but they possess a fantastic chemistry together.
Jacob Tremblay is certainly the most recognizable among the main three, but not only does his performance totally live up to his reputation, it makes for a fantastic showcase of his range (given that neither Room nor Wonder, the two most notably titles on his filmography, are exactly laugh riots). Being lesser-knowns, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams have the opportunity to really surprise, and they absolutely do – the former with both a funny attitude and an outstanding singing voice, and the latter by delivering some of the most hysterical lines of dialogue uttered thus far in 2019 with perfect timing.
Modern audiences are pulled in many directions when it comes to entertainment, but Good Boys is a movie that deserves the theatrical experience. It’s essentially the chance to join in uplifting laughter for 90 minutes with a community of adults with similar sensibilities, and it’s a blast. At a time when excellent R-rated studio comedies are in short supply, this one is well worth your time.