Sixth grade, and middle school generally, is a confusing time. It’s a big transition for boys, from children who play to little teens who wannabe a playa, and not everybody’s in sync on the maturity scale. Good Boys is not merely a comedy about eleven year-olds cursing and thirsting for girls, it’s a micro-coming-of-age story about kids outgrowing each other, and trying desperately to stick together as a unit, as the “bean bag boys.”
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon), and Lucas (Keith Williams) are the only members, and they’ve been friends throughout grade school. Max is the early bloomer and future cool guy. He’s got googly eyes for a girl at school and he’s interested in learning all things about the opposite sex. He gets his boys an invite to the coolest party in town and thus, one crazy day is born. Thor is a theater kid at heart, but he wants so badly to be cool that he plays tough and says “fuck” often. Lucas is a Christian, anti-drug propagating narc with a heavy heart. His parents are getting divorced and he’s afraid the same will befall the bean bag boys sooner or later. Together they embark on a journey across town in order to save Max’s butt from getting grounded. If they don’t, they’ll never get to that life-changing party, the “kissing party.” Good Boys enjoys a nice balance between crude and unusual shenanigans and the sort of sweet, innocent humor that only a movie about eleven year-olds could have. The most effective scenes are when the two are combined, when the kids’ naivete brushes up against the world’s more salacious bits, such as a blow-up doll they continually refer to as a “CPR doll,” or their well-intentioned goal of protecting the community from a “sex drug” named Molly.
Like the best of Judd Apatow’s heyday, the jokes are multi-layered and often rooted in something more than dirty jokes and sight gags, usually love or friendship. Here it’s the latter. It’s a cruel fact of life that rarely are friends forever. In grade school we believe our best buds will live next door in perpetuity. In high school we believe we’re BFFs for eternity. Hell, even college roomies are difficult to come by and stick by a decade later. Max, Thor, and Lucas are only beginning to discover that, their differences and diverging hobbies taking them in other directions. All three young actors deliver, particularly Tremblay, which is no surprise. He fully inhabits the awkward age between child and adolescent. Max wants to leave childhood behind and he hasn’t even hit puberty yet. As fathers to Max and Lucas, Will Forte and Lil Rey Howery are endearingly caring and clueless in equal measure. Parents are mostly absent from the proceedings, but when they do appear they are amusing in their cluelessness. Sixth grade is as confusing for them as it is for their kids.
Much like the fate of original filmmaking seemed to rest on the shoulders of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it seems like a lot is riding on the box office performance of Good Boys. Comedy has had a rough go of it lately, with nary a film succeeding, much less surpassing the still-coveted $100 million threshold. I very much enjoy watching comedies in a crowded theater with a receptive audience, and that experience is all too rare these days. On a Thursday night in Dallas, Good Boys was one of those rare cases, so fingers crossed.