It was approximately five minutes into the newest Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg-produced comedy Good Boys, where child actor Jacob Tremblay mutters “F*** yeah!” after creating a female avatar with big breasts on a World of Warcraft-like online game and prepares to masturbate, that I realized I was witnessing the world premiere of the live-action South Park movie I never knew I needed.
Your enjoyment of this movie depends heavily on your thoughts on South Park, 11-year-olds cursing, and mistaking anal beads for nunchucks. But like the best episodes of the 22-year-old Comedy Central series, Good Boys isn’t only about how many swear words you can fit into a tight 95-minute movie (though it definitely gives South Park’s infamous “It Hits the Fan” episode a run for its money). Indeed, the best moments of Good Boys are the little moments when the kids are just being kids, too innocent to realize that the doll they are kissing is not a CPR dummy, and naïve enough to treat an innocent kiss with the gravitas of marriage, while also being reckless enough to run across a busy freeway.
While the raunchiness of Good Boys will instantly bring Superbad to mind, the film also shares a lot with coming-of-age movies like Stand By Me. Max (Jacob Tremblay like you’ve never seen him before) is at the age when he’s starting to prioritize the cute girls in his 6th grade class more than his group of friends from kindergarten, who they refer to as the “Bean Bag Boys”. When he gets the gang invited to their first “kissing party,” they see the opportunity to change their lives forever.
Rounding out the Bean Bag Boys are Thor (Brady Noon), whose musical theater ambitions war with his fear of being labeled a nerd, and the dopey, rule-following Lucas (Keith L. Williams), who is reeling from the news of his parents’ divorce (Retta and Lil Rel Howery in short but impactful roles). In a scene that can best be described as the living embodiment of the “crying cooking” meme, the kids sing “Walking on Sunshine” during music class, as tears stream down Lucas’s cheeks while he tries his best to keep up with the song and dance number.
Making his directorial debut, The Office writer Gene Stupnitsky, who co-wrote the script with Lee Eisenberg, nails that specific moment in a kid’s life when they are eager to prove that they’re mature, but are still naïve about the ways of the world. These are boys who view recreational drug use as serious as murder, discuss taking three sips of beer like it’s climbing Mount Everest, and still can’t figure out how to open a childproof vitamin lock.
Also like the best South Park episodes, Good Boys evolves from a simple story of boys wanting their first kiss, to a convoluted tail of blackmail, drug dealing, and high-speed bike chases, with stakes so high you’d swear you’re watching Mission Impossible at points. A third act drug deal at a frat house turns into a paintball shootout that looks like Boogie Nights with 11-year-olds and had everyone at the film’s SXSW premiere in stitches.
If there’s one negative aspect to Good Boys is that in their effort to shock the audience with pre-teens swearing, the film becomes a bit repetitive. After the 60-minute mark you will wish Jacob Tremblay’s Max would drop something other than the F-bomb, and the film’s multiple gags about the boys mistaking sex toys for other things gets tired. Thankfully, whenever a gag is about to become tiresome, the film switches gears and pulls a Butters, going for adorable and sweet to counter the raunchiness of the story.
In an unusual move for an R-rated Seth Rogen film, Good has great messages about the dangers of drug use, consent, and bullying without it coming across as preachy. Keith L. Williams shows he was born to do comedy as the deadpan Lucas acts as the Jiminy Cricket of the group, unable to tell a lie, and constantly reminding his friends that you always ask a girl for consent before you kiss her. He makes it his mission in life to show Max’s horny teenage neighbors that drugs are bad and destroy communities. Brady Noon’s Thor reminds of a younger Jonah Hill, trying to act cool in front of people, but guarding the biggest and most vulnerable heart of them all. The normally innocent Jacob Tremblay cursing like a sailor is obviously a big selling point for the film, and he makes the most out of juxtaposing his cherubic look with the waves of profanity that come out of his mouth.
The trio have great chemistry, instantly convincing you that they are long-time friends who fear nothing more than growing apart. The film leaves their future open-ended, and I for one would not mind this becoming a series of films following this group of friends into high school, college, and beyond. It helps that unlike the South Park gang, there is no Cartman in the Bean Bag Boys, so it’s impossible not to fall for their genuine friendship.
Good Boys manages to balance the raunchiness of an R-rated sex comedy with the sweetness and good intentions of a coming-of-age movie. These combine into a powerful story about childhood friendships and the difficulties of making them last.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Great chemistry between the actors||Some of the gags become repetitive|
|One Cartman away from an actual live-action South Park reboot|
|Laughs never stop or get in the way of the story’s heart|
|Goes from 0 to 60 in its increasingly insane scenarios|
|Boogie Nights-inspired drug deal will leave audiences in stitches|