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Good Boys

Watching the trailer for Good Boys, I felt a terrible sickening feeling at the thought of reliving such a godawful point in anyone’s childhood. Yes, I very distinctly remember acting like a little prick in the sixth grade, pretending I knew more than I did and playing along with everyone else’s delusional fantasies to the same. Acting like the king of the hill because I’d made it to the final year of elementary school, as if everything else after that would be a cakewalk.

I really, REALLY didn’t want to watch a movie that got a few easy laughs from that godawful stage in development, but the film stuck around in theaters longer than expected, so let’s see if there’s anything in here worth writing home about.

Our story is centered around three boys — the so-called “Bean Bag Boys” — who’ve known each other their whole lives. The de facto protagonist is Max (Jacob Tremblay), who’s very much a romantic. He’s not even interested in sex so much as he’s interested in kissing, holding hands, and so on. Of course, those first few steps of intimacy can be even harder than actual sex, especially for kids growing up in the #MeToo era. Even kids nowadays know better than to try anything without consent, even if they’re still clueless about how to ask for it.

Next up is Thor (Brady Noon), the unfortunate target of toxic masculinity. He’s very much a theatre kid at heart and he’s got a great singing voice (supposedly — the film didn’t quite sell me on that), but he suppresses all of that so he won’t be a bully target. Thus Thor tries to dress tough, gets an ear stud, and makes a huge show out of drinking (or rather, sipping) beer. He’s the devil on Max’s shoulder, to Lucas’ angel.

Lucas (Keith L. Williams) is a kid who’s deathly afraid of doing anything wrong, terribly afraid of consequences that will follow him for the rest of his life. As a direct result, the kid is a panicky, hopeless blabbermouth incapable of telling anything but the whole unvarnished truth, even if it gets him in trouble. Especially if it gets him in trouble. On top of all that, Lucas has just been informed that his parents are getting a divorce, and of course it’s eating the kid up because he’s worked so hard to keep anything bad from happening.

Long story short (Too late!) the plot gets going when Max gets an invite to a party with the popular kids. Even better, Max’s crush (Brixlee, played by Millie Davis) will be there, and the party will feature a kissing-intensive game of spin-the-bottle. In trying to learn how to kiss in preparation for the event, Max and his friends steal his dad’s expensive drone so they can spy on a teenage neighbor (that’s another long story). The drone goes awry and hilarity ensues.

Right off the bat, the film deserves recognition for its highly diverse cast. Two of our white main characters have a black best friend, Max has a massive crush on a black girl, the most popular kid in school (Soren, played by Izaac Wang) is an Asian boy, and the whole issue of race is so subtle that it’s barely even a factor.

As lowbrow as this movie gets, the filmmakers never once get into racial stereotypes for the sake of humor. What’s more, though our raunchy sex comedy movie is about three inseparable middle school boys, there is not a single homophobic insult or gay joke in the entire picture. What we do get, however, is a running subplot about a band of social misfits banded together into an anti-bullying support group.

This is unmistakably a modern story about growing up as a pre-teen boy in modern times. These kids were raised to accept those from different cultures, sexualities, and walks of life. Their parents have easy access to divorce, birth control, and whatever crazy sex toys might indulge any bedroom fantasy. And of course the kids have the internet to provide all the sex education they’re not getting from their teachers or parents.

Which brings me to the next point: Some things never change.

Now in the Internet Era more than ever, unlimited access to information doesn’t always come with the wisdom to use it. A search engine is borderline useless without the slightest idea of what to look for, and it can be misused just like anything else. Pornography (with very few exceptions) is not intended as sex ed, and the results can be actively harmful if used as such. Moreover, old-fashioned foolishness is no less stupid or pervasive simply because of new technology — Peeping Toms have been around long before the invention of the drone camera, for instance.

Even with all of their 21st-century comforts, these are still pre-teen boys. They’re still hopelessly ignorant and constantly defeated by how much they’re not even aware they don’t know. Yet for the sake of their popularity and their own self-esteem, they can’t show any sign of weakness or any hint that they don’t know what they’re doing. Thus the boys keep getting themselves in way over their heads, no matter how many times it bites them on the ass.

It certainly helps that we’ve got the aforementioned late-teens neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon) and her girlfriend Lily (Midori Francis). The two of them are recurring antagonists who occasionally pop up to try and recover some drugs the boys stole from them. (Yet another long story.) More importantly, they serve as an important foil to the Bean Bag Boys’ bumbling. The film needed that college-age counterpoint to show the boys just how young and stupid they really are, while also showing the ways in which some people never really grow up at all.

This brings me to the film’s primary source of comedy. It’s not the humor about drugs or sex or alcohol, and it’s not about the gross-out gags relating to sex toys or grievous injuries, though all of those are a part of it. No, the real source of this movie’s humor is in our main characters’ crippling lack of nuance.

A bunch of kids hanging out in someone’s basement isn’t just a party, it’s the greatest night in the history of ever. A girl isn’t just a crush, she’s his future wife. If anyone does drugs even once, they’re a junkie and a menace to society. If you’re not the most popular kid in school, you’re a loser that nobody will ever want anything to do with. Committing even the slightest misdemeanor or even having a permanent record means getting branded as a criminal pariah for all eternity. The way things are right now is how things will always be forever and ever.

These kids are so young, so hopelessly ignorant of how little any of this will matter in a decade or two, that every event is treated with cataclysmic importance. They have no idea how big the world really is, so (on a subconscious level) they think the entire world revolves around them.

On one level, this works as a subtle thematic portrayal of life as a preteen. On another level, these hopelessly extreme and ignorant reactions lead our characters to escalate any given scene, driving any given situation further and further out of control until we reach absurdly comical heights.

That said, there are quite a few moments when the characters face no consequences for their actions, even though they really should. Seriously, that “crossing the highway” stunt (seen in some of the trailers) should have made local headlines at the very least. I can’t give too many other examples for fear of spoilers, but there’s one example I’ve got to talk about.

The central driving force of the second act is in replacing the stolen drone so Max doesn’t get grounded and therefore barred from attending the party. This is the character’s primary motivation, to keep from getting grounded so he can attend the party. To make the story as short and spoiler-free as I can, Max does eventually get himself grounded. And then he immediately goes to the party like nothing happened. Thus the movie breaks its own plot into a million pieces. FAIL.

Then again, it’s obvious that plot was never a huge priority with Good Boys. The filmmakers were clearly focused on making a raunchy sex comedy about growing up as an ignorant hormonal teenage boy in a more enlightened and permissive modern age. That certainly comes across, though your mileage will definitely vary with regards to how much juvenile humor you can tolerate.

More importantly, we’ve been buried under so many coming-of-age movies in the past several years, this one needed much more to stand out. Right off the top of my head, I can tell you the film isn’t as funny or intelligent as Booksmart, it’s not as bold or heartfelt as Eighth Grade, and it’s not as modern or hip as Love, Simon. Hell, even Blockers (half of it, anyway) was a better comedy about teenagers on a sex-and-drug-fueled spree.

(Side note: Speaking of Booksmart, this makes the second coming-of-age movie I’ve seen this year that features a slow-motion getaway set to “Nobody Speak” by DJ Shadow, feat. Run the Jewels. Not that I’m complaining, but seriously, what the hell?)

It’s not a bad film, just an okay one. In a time when the multiplexes are still saturated with quality material, and in a genre with so many far superior films in recent memory, “okay” is sadly not enough to warrant a recommendation.

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