I don’t quite know what to make of Good Boys, a vulgar, sweet-natured, profane, but hilarious adult comedy about three 12-year-old sixth grade boys who decide to skip school on a Friday, in the hopes of returning a drone that was seized by two teenage neighbour girls they were trying to spy on.
Once the screenplay, co-written by “The Office” scripters Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (also making his directorial debut), stops trying to shock us every minute or two and actually digs into the characters and the sixth-grade swamp these boys awkwardly splash around in, Good Boys finds its voice, its heart, and becomes a sweet-tempered curiosity that has a few rather keen observations and takeaways.
That premise above is only really part of what unfolds along the way. The best friends, self-anointed as The Bean Bag Boys, consists of Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon). Just weeks into their sixth-grade year, Max’s dad (Will Forte) is headed out for a business trip. Thor is amped to audition for the school musical (“Rock of Ages” no less), and Lucas is rocked with the news that his parents (Lil Rel Howery, Retta) are getting a divorce.
Max is crushing big-time on Brixlee (Millie Davis), while Thor is nervous that he will not be cool, antagonized by Atticus (Chance Hurstfield), the leader of the Scooter Squad and representative of the popular kids in school. The kids are constantly anxious and worried that – they will be forced to try drugs, they will have to give in to peer pressure, they will have to do so many things they don’t want to do, just to fit in.
Seriously, the amount of anxiety these kids express to and with one another should make a school counsellor, therapist, or parents’ extremely worried. But it could be an accurate representation of kids trying to fit in and moving their primary school life over into a middle school one. It’s all about the transition, and the desire to be accepted is very normal.
After successfully swigging sips of beer in a challenge from Atticus, Max is personally invited to his first “kissing party” by popular kid Soren (Izaac Wang). Nervous over his first boy/girl party, he learns Brixlee will be there, and then a convoluted situation develops involving the aforementioned drone, which Max is forbidden to touch and does anyway, a truth-or-dare of sorts involving a drug deal, a Craigslist-style posting used to raise some money, and so on and so on.
This is little more than a cavalcade of silly set-ups allowing the boys to riff and cut down one another in exhausted exasperation. What eventually emerges is a genial nature and believable friendship, as the boys convey a bond that makes it easy for us to cheer them to success.
Tremblay and Williams shine, with Noon providing the faux-tough guy persona as a nice complement to the knee-jerk anxieties of Max and the rule-following rigidity Lucas swears by. That any moral consideration exists here at all is a plus. And that Stupnitsky and Steinberg steer us towards a rather bittersweet final act, that somehow feels genuine and earned, even with all the raunchiness that comes before it, allows Good Boys to feel like a better movie than it probably has any right to be.
Later scenes, where the trio realize they are growing up and may eventually grow apart, prove surprisingly effective and emotional.
But Good Boys is trying to be all about the laughs. And there’s just enough of them, and a nice final act that puts the boys’ friendship first for once, definitely a great way to waste a Sunday afternoon.