Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have built their comedic brand out of producing R-rated raunchy comedies, the likes of which include Superbad, This is the End, and Sausage Party. The producing duo also had a hand in writing the screenplays for these films, which may play a part in the level of quality in the final product. I say this because their newest production, Good Boys, is solely written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (who also directs).
The resulting film tries to find the balance between raunch and sweetness that Rogen and Goldberg are famous for, but without the cleverness to make the former effectively funny, the latter can only carry Good Boys so far.
Good Boys stars Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon as Max, Lucas, and Thor (who call themselves the Bean Bag Boys), three fairly unpopular tween boys entering sixth grade. Max desperately wants to kiss his crush, Brixlee, and he might get the chance when he is invited to a kissing party hosted by the “cool kids.”
Meanwhile, the overly cautious Lucas is struggling with drama between his parents, and Thor is desperately trying to fit in with the “cool kids,” even though his passion for singing and musicals hinders his ability to do so. These boys’ friendship is tested as they embark on a mission to learn how to kiss, which leads to inappropriate google searches, a drug-related feud with teenage girls, and other R-rated shenanigans.
There’s a lot of comedic potential in a film that centers around young kids getting mixed up in very adult stuff. Unfortunately, the writers waste that potential on a barrage of the same types of jokes, which gets tiresome fairly quickly. With films that deal with middle schoolers and high schoolers, I always prefer the ones that have a strong sense of how kids and teenagers talk at those respective ages.
Good Boys plays things very broad with its depiction of middle school vocabulary, which feels like a lazy way to throw in as many sex jokes as possible into an 89-minute runtime. There’s only so many times a sixth grader misunderstands a sex toy before it stops being funny. The rather chaotic editing doesn’t do the comedy any favors, either.
A huge bulk of Good Boys is delegated to a duel between the boys and two very persistent teenage girls, who desperately want their drugs back after Thor unknowingly steals them. This conflict takes things into pure absurdist territory, and the scenarios it puts our protagonists in feel more and more uninspired as the film goes on. For the “one crazy day” type of movie that this is, I was constantly wishing the filmmakers would reign it in a little bit, instead of reveling in its lazily cobbled together insanity.
The scenes that save Good Boys from being completely one-note are the sweet ones that examine the boys’ friendship. The moment that Lucas reveals his family drama to Max and Thor is so endearing, in the way Max and Thor support their friend in a time of need. And the three young actors do have great chemistry with one another, which really makes these scenes work. Good Boys is at its best when it allows the boys to be friends, without bombarding them with raunchy enlightenments or the incessant teenage girls.
There are also some genuine insights into what it’s like to be best friends at that age. A question gets brought up about whether or not the Bean Bag Boys are only friends because they live close to each other and their parents are friends. This ends up putting a strain on their dynamic, as the three boys begin to question the nature of their friendship.
I am glad the filmmakers actually take time away from the oppressive and repetitive gags, even if it’s brief, to bring in thematic ideas about young friendships and finding your identity at that age.
And even though I found most of the humor to be strained, there are a couple scenes that gave me a good laugh. Stephen Merchant has a particularly funny scene with the boys, as a prospective buyer of a collectible card with very personal value. Another scene in a frat house, which owes a huge debt to the drug-deal-gone-bad scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, has some fun slapstick with some very dumb frat guys.
Good Boys is a mixed bag of one-note comedy and an endearing depiction of young friendship. Unfortunately, the moments of sweetness between the three tween leads isn’t quite enough to balance out the raunchy repetition of the film’s often lazy attempts to wring humor out of its undoubtedly intriguing premise. A little more wit and variety would’ve gone a long way in getting more laughs out of me.
Good Boys is rated R and is in theaters today.