The coming-of-age R-rated comedy is a niche film category that is slowly gaining more members. This summer alone the great Booksmart (2019) was a welcome addition, and Good Boys (2019), centering on a much younger age group than usual (10 year olds), looked to be a refreshing risk as well.
Good Boys follows a trio of life-long best friends Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon), who are just beginning sixth grade. Seeing the changes from Elementary School to Middle School, the trio is anxious to make a good impression. When invited to a “kissing party” by another classmate the friends embark on a journey to prepare; from learning how to kiss to bringing a beer, needless to say their planning goes awry.
Young kids using foul language may seem strange on film, but in reality it’s shockingly common (especially in the absence of parents); I was therefore anxious to see how a more realistic version of tweens would be put on screen. The script seemed interested in exploring the clash of innocence with the desire to be seen as older (the major motivator for using curse words at such an age), however the execution of such themes was incredibly sloppy.
Jacob Tremblay wowed everyone in his debut role in Room (2015) with many critics considering him snubbed from an Oscar nomination, but a child actor’s success is largely reliant on the director. In Good Boys director Gene Stupnitsky seemed unable to wrangle or engage his young performers; shots would carry on too long evidencing the choppy rhythm of child-performers, and the characters were written so as to flip flop from innocent to adult in an increasingly unrealistic tempo. There’s not much blame for the actors themselves, as they brought a great confidence that is the essential ingredient a child actor should bring, their narrative guidance is left to the adults on set, and here they were let down.
With bad performances anchoring the film, one simply doesn’t care much for the narrative or the characters because you are being reminded that these are struggling actors. Because of it many of the jokes and the entire sentimental journey are left in the dust, with viewers checking their watches with a building frequency.
In the end, Good Boys was a brave attempt in concept, but sloppy in its execution and director, leaving its brave little performers to fend for themselves. The result is a relative bore and insignificant entry into this increasingly exploited sub-genre.