Good Boys is a new original comedy from director Gene Stupnitsky, and was written by both him and co-writer Lee Eisenberg for Universal Pictures. It stars Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon as three newly-minted middle school best friends who get invited to attend a party at one of the “cool kid” houses by a schoolmate of theirs with higher social status. Wanting to learn how to kiss before attending so that Max (Tremblay) can plant one on his crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis), the three boys use his father’s drone in order to spy on Max’s neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon) in order to see her kiss her boyfriend. By a series of increasingly escalating circumstances, including a kidnapping of said drone, the boys end up accidentally stealing drugs from Hannah and her friend, only to end up being hunted down by the two girls whilst trying to get home before Max’s father returns from his work trip so that Max can attend the aforementioned party. With time running out, and a big problem on their hands, the boys have to find out how to get their drone back, and dispose of the drugs, before Max becomes grounded, and loses his chance with Brixlee forever. The movie also stars Midori Francis, Izaac Wang, Josh Caras, Will Forte, Lil Rel Howery, and Retta.
If you caught my mini-review of Long Shot, you’d probably remember my mentioning in that piece that how much you enjoy Seth Rogan movies somewhat heavily depends on how well you jive with his more drug-and-sex style of humor present in most of his filmography. That’s not to say it can’t work well (as was the case with Long Shot) for certain projects, but if more than one of them comes along per year, the over-reliance on the same kinds of jokes can get a little bit repetitive and feel overdone to the point of being actually kind of annoying. Due to this, oftentimes his films will be subject to the laws of diminishing returns more than most others, especially in the comedy sector; the novelty of cursing and drug jokes in things like Sausage Party easily loose their luster after the initial jolt of hearing a hot dog say “fuck” wears off. Now, to be fair, Rogan actually wasn’t involved in the writing or direction of this movie, instead taking on a producer’s role for the project; to put it lightly, however, maybe he should have been, because Good Boys just…isn’t very good.
In a word, Good Boys is juvenile. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad things in its own right (after all, some of the best comedies works from a stance of naïveté in characters facing unfamiliar circumstances), but it doesn’t try to be anything except that, and rather than attempt to tell a deeper story about friendship and the connection, the script essentially relies on the “novelty” of young kids cursing like adults and getting things wrong about sex and drugs so often you’d think they actually hadn’t aged out of elementary school at all, despite the movie’s constant insistence that you remember they’ve in middle school now. At one point, they even try to open a gummy vitamins container without ever looking on the top of the bottle where the etched in instructions for opening the thing would be. (Yeah, they are only 6th graders, yes, but 6th graders can, y’know, read.)
The movie always goes for the easy jokes instead of the clever ones, and while easy jokes can sometimes be rooted in cleverness, more and more of the plot of this film is contrived the longer it goes on in order to get all our leads to the next set piece. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t fun or amusing in the moment, but relying on cursory nods to popular things with a few “fuck”s thrown in for good measure isn’t clever comedy, and frankly, it’s kind of a miracle that we get the performances we do out of characters that are nothing more than caricatures of what the filmmakers think all middle and high schoolers are like. In fact, most of the performances in the film are pretty good, but the material is so elementary for the talents of Tremblay and Gordon that it just gets (you guessed it) kind of annoying to keep remembering Gordon was also in Booksmart, a movie with a slightly similar premise that used its story to challenge its main characters instead of pandering to them.
A lot of this, I believe, comes from the writing simply being too attached to the juvenile nature of the characters. Sure, middle schoolers are ridiculously immature much of the time (I was at that age, too), but when you have a feature length movie starring three of them who are constantly on screen, at some point, one or more of them have to mature (or at least be smarter than the others). The movie kind of plays at this with Keith L. Williams’ character by forcing a divorce subplot about his parents into the mix, but you never really understand why he wouldn’t tell his friends about it at first because the movie never establishes that they wouldn’t be receptive to or understanding of his emotional plight under the circumstances. The script also tries to Williams the easy “I’m a feminist” jokes that would likely be a lot more powerful if not exclusively played for comedy, but then it tries to go out and say that he’s a wuss for not wanting his friends to like, get attacked by a high school age drug lord or something. Truth be told, I’m not sure that’s the message this movie was trying to go for, but it’s the only one clear enough for the audience to actually grasp onto it because otherwise, the movie doesn’t really have much to say about…well, about anything, really.
It’s not all bad, though, and one of the better aspects to the story is the element of the three leads remaining friends even as their social circles grow larger and larger, and they’re forced to spend more time apart due to the different paths they’re on in life. The actors really sell this aspect of the film pretty well, and I wish we could have seen more of that angle play out across a longer stretch of the film rather than have to re-tread the same jokes every couple of minutes until the audience is forced to accept that the writers and director genuinely believed this was hilarious and weren’t just trying to pull a practical jokes on us. During the third act, I started to find myself genuinely caring about these characters because now that the adventure with all the elementary jokes was over, we could finally get to know them a little better and see how they all handle conflict that’s not contrived for the plot…and then the movie ends and we don’t get to explore that any more. There’s a good movie here, but it’s buried by the writers’ need to insist that elementary school humor is still funny without ever challenging the characters in a meaningful way until the very last second.
Good Boys isn’t exactly a terrible film, but it’s just lackluster enough that it kind of feels like it’s a terrible film since it doesn’t really get to the good stuff right up until it’s almost over, and then it ends before you can really let that good stuff sink in. The performances are good for what the actors are given to do, but they’re not given enough to really shine nearly as bright as they otherwise could have. It could have been another great summer comedy like Booksmart, but in the end, this one just isn’t mature enough to actually say much about anything. Honestly, I was pretty let down.
I’m giving “Good Boys” a 6.5/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time. Writer for Bitesize Breakdown.