“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?”
The iconic line from Stand by Me still remains an emotional gut punch. It’s a profound distillation of how much our friendships during that delicate and terrifying time when we take our first steps into adulthood mean to us for the rest of our lives. These bonds ease us, support us as we navigate a psychosexual minefield of pubes, boners, boobs, periods and the intricacies of sexual and romantic attraction. They might not last a lifetime—hell, they might not last 7th grade—but they nevertheless remain dear in our hearts, these best friends who once pushed us to both evolve and retain a bit of our childhood sense of awe.
The entirety of Good Boys’ marketing relies on catering to an audience who wants to watch a raunchy comedy with 12-year-olds constantly blurting out the f-word and making sexually charged adult jokes. This is one of the rare R-rated releases whose red band trailer the studio heavily prioritizes, and all it represents is a supercut of most instances where the three tween protagonists curse up a storm. Thankfully there’s a lot more depth to Good Boys beyond the carnival curiosity of paying admission price to hear some tween potty mouth.
The premise, and even specific story beats, follow Superbad so closely that Good Boys could have been retooled as a direct prequel to that hit high school sex romp throwback. (Not surprising that Superbad writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg produced it.) Early bloomer Max (Jacob Tremblay), insecure Thor (Brady Noon) and vigilant Lucas (Keith L. Williams), a.k.a., The Beanbag Boys, have been best friends since childhood. Just like in Superbad, our nerdy trio is finally invited to the cool kids’ party and want to hook up with the girls there. Of course, this being a story about 12-year-olds, their goal is downgraded from their first sexual experiences to their first kisses. Max is especially smitten with a classmate, believing wholeheartedly that one kiss with her will turn her into the woman with whom he will spend the rest of his life. However, an ill-advised mission to gather intel on how to kiss results in the Beanbag Boys losing Max’s father’s (Will Forte) precious drone, which prompts a series of wacky adventures to retrieve this McGuffin or Max will be grounded and won’t get to kiss. The mandatory slapstick that results is mostly hilarious—see: the unorthodox way the kids try to pop back in their friend’s dislocated shoulder—though sometimes superfluous and unintentionally terrifying for parents, like a sequence that involves a remake of the freeway scene from Bowfinger.
Mainly, Good Boys manages to stand on its own two tiny feet independently from Superbad in how much the dialogue and behavior of the kids ring true. In many ways, the “R” rating feels natural, relatable even: This was the time we all experimented with adult language. What the film’s script gets so painfully right is how we used the words without understanding them. One of the first jokes in the film focuses on how the Beanbag Boys know the word “cum” while having no idea how to pronounce it. They puff out their chests claiming to know everything there is to know about sex, but think of Thor’s parents’ sex toys as weapons and an unusually smelly necklace. The cursing and adult material isn’t just put into the tweens’ mouths for simple shock value; it’s essential to grounding these characters no matter how bonkers their hijinks become.
Meanwhile, the thematic glue that holds Good Boys together is that balance between the value of such close friendships and the importance of gracefully taking the next steps into adulthood. The tight chemistry and the impeccable timing among the young actors, as well as writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky’s emphasis on capturing the awkward but charmingly determined behavior of boys within this age group, keeps the film’s otherwise episodic structure moving. Stupnitsky, who comes from TV comedy and directs his first feature here, brings his expertise from the small screen to create pacing that lends to an improvisational atmosphere, though Daniel Gabbe’s editing occasionally veers toward the erratic. Still, Good Boys manages to find that happy medium between outrageous and heartstring-pulling.
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Writers: Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, Keith L. Williams, Will Forte, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Lil Rey Howery, Retta
Release Date: August 16, 2019