Review: Good Boys (2019)

Good Boys follows a certain familiar formula to the letter, a crude coming of age comedy about a group of youths caught up in quirky hijinks as they attempt to attend a party. The formula is tweaked just enough, tracing the same ground but with tweens in place of the usual teenagers. Adhering to this formula can still work; Booksmart is one of the year’s best films, surprisingly poignant while managing the same level of absurd humor. Good Boys, unfortunately, wastes too much time exploring the same joke over and over again.

For the team behind Good Boys, it’s apparent that nothing is funnier than kids failing to understand the purpose of an object. This joke is repeated throughout with little variation; they discover a new sex toy and obliviously use it for some unintended purpose. It’s funny enough the first time but it wears thin by the end of the first act and continues until the final shot of the movie – a final shot which also happens to appear in the trailers. Crude humor can be fun, but the setup and punchline is always the same.

Throughout, I had difficulty believing Max, Lucas, and Thor as anything beyond caricatures. They speak with a certain flow that I can only believe as adult writers attempting to imitate children without ever speaking with any. Do preteens actually proudly refer to themselves as ‘tweens’ to differentiate themselves from children? That word always read to me as a marketing term more than anything else. Likewise, I don’t remember viewing the gap between 5th and 6th grade as some huge gap that proved my maturity. It’s a trope I’ve seen in shows like South Park, but that’s also a work that exaggerates those differences; Good Boys seems convinced that it is partly grounded in these matters. Enough small lines ring falsely enough that I couldn’t ever take these characters seriously.

Similarly, Thor’s parents seem to just leave sex toys lying around to be easily accessed. I can believe that, sure, but then I can’t really believe these kids are so ignorant that not one realizes the purpose of these toys. Not one of these boys has snuck a copy of Grand Theft Auto under their parent’s noses, or stayed up late to watch Adult Swim or South Park? I was their age when I watched my friends beat people up with sex toys in San Andreas – and I was one of those kids who didn’t say bad words out loud until the end of high school. This information has only become more accessible for these technologically connected kids. Even without knowing the specific purpose, they should at least have enough intuition to be discomforted.

In other words, the central premise of this movie is built around an idea of ‘tweens’ being far more ignorant than they are. The conflict is kicked off by an action that legitimately makes no sense at all, as the boys use a drone to spy on a neighbor simply to learn how to kiss. These neighbors even call them out for not just googling ‘kissing.’ They had literally already watched a porn video at this point, how am I supposed to believe their next step is to pull out a drone they know they shouldn’t touch? At least come up with some stupid excuse like the internet going down.

Despite all of this disconnect, I still had a reasonable enough amount of fun with this movie, especially when it escaped the trap of sex toy jokes. Both sets of college kids offer good bits to play off of; the trio treating Hannah and Lily as drug fiends is riotous, especially as it leads to a chase sequence, while a scene as the boys are coerced into visiting a frat house is one of the funniest this year.

It also does a fair enough job exploring some emotional depths as the boys fight with each other and are confronted with the fact that many young friendships are based more in convenience than actual similarity, though that is naturally saddled by the disconnect from these characters. The film never gets too caught up in these emotions, having fun with montages that suggest some grand change that is immediately undercut. It’s not much, but this film is so much better when it steps outside of prop gags.

To counter all these writing flaws, the three young leads actually do a great job pulling off their individual characters. They’re given a sometimes weak script but deliver their lines with perfect timing. It’s a strange case where the performances are more believable than the roles, which makes it easy to overlook the idiot ball being tossed around so recklessly.

Good Boys is a bit too familiar and much of the new ground it attempts to tread is brought down by the filmmakers not quite pinning down the age of their characters – their ignorance suggests characters far younger while several of their actions would be more fitting for teenagers. Writing convincing child characters is a difficult job, and Good Boys struggles like so many others before it. Despite this, the actual production is convincing enough that this can be an enjoyable experience for anyone looking for some crude fun – you just have to accept the characters are kind of amorphous so they can fit into a bunch of disparate scenes.

And, who knows, maybe the fact I watched Robot Chicken and played Grand Theft Auto when I was in sixth grade is some horrifying sign I had a broken childhood and my disconnect is entirely unique.

3 Stars Out of 5

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