R-rated coming-of-age comedies like “Good Boys” have tapered off in the past decade, at least in the mainstream. There have been a number of small-scale successes like “Lady Bird,” “Eighth Grade,” and this summer’s “Booksmart,” but those films fared better critically than commercially. I think it goes back to 2007’s “Superbad” and how that film nailed the formula so perfectly that for a decade most filmmakers wanted to stay away from the genre for fear of unfavorable comparisons. Or maybe it’s because the teen subgenre du jour shifted naturally from raunchy comedies to supernatural entities to dystopian futures to romances complicated by diseases. Or maybe it’s because the past decade has seen a rise in sensitivity toward topics that were once fodder for these types of comedies; things like bullying, sexual identity, and the objectification of women can’t be played for laughs in this era the way they could in the past. But I primarily subscribe to the “Superbad” theory, which explains why, while watching “Good Boys,” I couldn’t help but think the film exemplified a redundancy that it could never shake.
The much-hyped angle of this film is that the main characters are not “teens,” but rather “tweens,” or sixth-graders. As such, they have much less understanding of sex, drugs, love, and life than the high-schoolers who usually populate these movies. Those characters have a lot to learn themselves, but these kids are much further back toward square one. Often this naivete will work to the film’s detriment, as it can be inconsistent as to what the kids do and don’t know. I came out of the film with a long list of complaints to the effect of “How can they know about X and not know about Y?” I’m hesitant to get specific, but I found it odd that they had an arsenal of jokes ready to go about the appearance of child predators. Forget high school, I don’t think I learned about that stereotype until college.
The story follows three friends (Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon) as they anticipate their first kissing party. They want to go in knowing how to kiss, and the internet isn’t much help for some reason (for the record, typing “How to Kiss Tutorial” into Google Videos yields over 89,000 results), so they convince Tremblay to steal his father’s drone and use it to spy on a pair of teenaged, allegedly sexually active neighbors (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis). The girls get wise and steal the drone, refusing to give it back, which could get Tremblay grounded and cost him the party. The boys steal the girls’ drugs to use as leverage, leading to an escalating series of shenanigans as they try to negotiate the drone’s return. Along the way, the friends’ bond is tested in a way they never thought possible. Are they the friends they think they are or will this escapade prove to be their undoing?
In and of itself, “Good Boys” is a fine film. There’s a reason why the relatively dormant “dirty t(w)een comedy” genre is being revived here, and it’s because the film possesses cleverness and heart. The boys’ personalities and chemistry are affable, and I’d say the jokes hit at an acceptable rate. I laughed out loud a few times (my favorite was a joke whose punchline was “What’d you do?”), but more often I found myself making the circular “move it along” gesture with my hand. The ending does drag, but the bigger issue is that twelve years since the peak of the genre is not a long enough absence to make my heart grow fonder.
“Good Boys” is rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving tweens. Its running time is 89 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.