By Thom Ernst
Good Boys comes out about a decade too late to deliver on its promise to shock. After all, if we don’t much care about the disturbing behavior of world leaders, why even blink at the foul-mouthed antics of a group of adorable tweens?
It is not so much the film’s content that is meant to shock, but rather that actual 12-year-olds — and not baby-faced twenty-somethings posing as tweens — are performing the material. Even the least puritanical are likely to sense something exploitative about directing (and ultimately rewarding) children for using the kind of language that traditionally (but hopefully not actually) run them the risk of having their mouths washed out with soap.
Not that Good Boys misses any opportunity to offend. It’s just that if you’ve been near a school, walked past a playground or encountered unattended tweens at a mall, you aren’t likely to find anything in the film too scandalous.
The filmmakers — happily touting their movie pedigree for making provocative comedies like Superbad, Neighbours, and Sausage Party — run their cast through outrageous adult-extremes, then soft-peddle it with a youthful innocence that mistakes a string of anal beads to be a necklace, and misinterprets the word misogyny to mean the act of massaging. It’s an impish waywardness about which no one needs to feel bad.
Good Boys might pride itself for its lack of restraint, but the film’s guileless good nature that it charm. For all its bawdy humour, Good Boys is still a morality tale, albeit one where good people frequently drop F bombs, take drugs, and think about sex.
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon) believe they are on a lifelong path of friendship. They are, now and forever, the Bean Bag Boys; the kind of youthful coalition that Stephen King could make good use of and indeed he has in both Stand By Me and It. These boys are sweet, hypersensitive to the treatment of women, fiercely anti-drug, and in desperate need of belonging.
The irony here is that Good Boys, despite its mature situations, overshoots the audience it is most likely to appeal to: Tweens who are not accompanied by an adult. No matter how ‘grown-up’ we believe Good Boys’ humour to be, bad words and dirty jokes are a mainstay in the private comedy of pre-teens.
Good Boys isn’t breaking new ground. Movies like Lord of the Flies (1963), Walkabout (1971), Bless the Beasts & Children (1971), The Bad News Bears (1976), The Cowboys (1972), The Squid and the Whale (2005), Kids (1995), and Pretty Baby (1978) all had a part in pushing the boundaries on how the portrayal of children is seen on film. Good Boys might take things a step or two further, but not enough to stir up any substantial controversy.
But where the movie feels most forced is in moments of poignant reflection and self-awareness. While it is easy to imagine tween boys out of control, ruled by their hormones and easily manipulated by their peers, it’s harder to imagine them capable of understanding how significant all of that is. And that feels like a misstep in a film that purports to show a warts-and-all representation of kids today.
Good Boys. Directed by Gene Stupnitsky. Starring Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon. Opens wide August 16.