'Good Boys': Film Review | SXSW 2019

A tween 'Superbad'? F--k no.

Three preteen friends go rogue so one might get to kiss a girl in Gene Stupnitsky's directing debut.

A nearly one-note comedy about a trio of 12-year-old boys who will do anything they must to get to a "kissing party" attended by the girl one of them adores, Gene Stupnitsky's Good Boys has an endless fascination with hearing preteens curse. Is it funny the first and fourth and seventh time? Sure. Does the novelty wear off? A bit.

The film — produced by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen — has very funny moments, don't misunderstand. But how good it really is could be hard to gauge at a premiere that seemed to be attended by every single person who worked on the movie, plus that person's significant other, and maybe his mother. After 15 minutes of hearing the same howls of laughter greet lines both witty and middling, an uninvested viewer came to question what he was watching, and the answer was often "not much."

Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) are the Bean Bag Boys, buddies who have been inseparable since kindergarten. They're sweet, innocent kids who fear the approach of middle school largely because somebody might try to make them do drugs. (Are we about to see them recoil at their first exposure to internet porn? It's an R-rated comedy; what do you think?)

At school, they attempt not to be mocked by the Scooter Squad, whose leader, Atticus (Chance Hurstfield), is revered for his killer burns. When Thor isn't able to make himself take a swig of the warm beer the SS bros are passing around, Atticus dubs him "Sippy Cup," a taunt that will force the kid to quit everything he loves that isn't cool, like singing in the school play.

Even in this mild-mannered crew, Luke stands out as a rule follower. But Luke has just learned that his parents are divorcing, and, not ready to share the news, he's out of sorts. Still, when the school's pint-size Fonzie, Soren (Izaac Wang), invites Max to a party where he might get to kiss Brixlee (Millie Davis), Luke sets his dismay aside to help get his friend get psyched up.

It's a little tiresome to recount how this project leads the three kids to lose the drone that Max's dad (Will Forte) uses for work. But having been forbidden to touch the amazing toy, Max is now deep in a substance Good Boys would have no problem naming. Add a couple of more contrivances, and now the drone is being held hostage by two teen girls who live nearby (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis), and the boys have one of their purses, which contains a whole lot of MDMA. A battle ensues.

Along the way, the script by Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (who wrote Bad Teacher together) has a little fun with misunderstood words and grown-up norms. They know about consent, for instance, but think a "feminist" is a bad person, like a "sexist" or "racist." If the writers had worked harder on this kind of verbal gag, the script's constant variations on "fuck" might feel less monotonous. More problematic, though, is Stupnitsky's direction of his young cast. Williams, who looks like he's sitting on a powder keg of comic potential, gives the film's most engaging performance, but several other kid thesps are underutilized or made vanilla by the pic's direction.

Then there are the sex toys. Thor's parents have a bedroom full of them, and Good Boys treats them like a surefire fount of laughs. That "CPR doll" Thor thinks will help Max learn to kiss? Funny enough, and maybe Max's experience when he puts his mouth on the thing won't make you want to call Child Protective Services. But after the movie goes to this sticky well a couple of times too many, you may simply be no-laugh disgusted when a string of used anal beads are given to a 12-year-old girl to wear as a necklace.

Or maybe not. The Universal Pictures employees and associates in the premiere audience practically exploded with laughter; maybe ordinary moviegoers will, too.

Production companies: Good Universe, Point Grey Pictures
Distributor: Universal
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Josh Caras, Millie Davis, Izaac Wang, Chance Hurstfield, Will Forte
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Screenwriters: Lee Eisenberg, Gene Stupnitsky
Producers: Lee Eisenberg, Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Weaver
Executive producers: Nathan Kahane, Brady Fujikawa, Josh Fagen
Director of photography: Jonathan Furmanski
Production designer: Jeremy Stanbridge
Casting director: Rich Delia
Venue: SXSW Film Festival (Headliners)

Rated R, 90 minutes