It might just be because we have reached the end of the summer blockbuster season but recent films like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood have been pushing boundaries of taste in the name of good drama or great comedy. Good Boys has all the trappings of a film trying to push the boat out, making its youth cast find humour in some distinctly adult concepts. However what this Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill produced comedy actually seems to do is avoid any chance of offending anyone by shooting for a broad, welcoming tone that embraces the childish.
Following three sixth grade best friends, Good Boys follows their quest to learn the secret to kissing in preparation for their first ‘kissing party’. Pushed by ringleader Max (Jacob Tremblay), wannabe tough guy Thor (Brady Noon) and rule-follower Lucas (Keith L Williams) skip school so that they can prepare for the party of their lives. However, what starts out as a simple journey between friends forces them to face what they really want from this party and if they even really want to go.
While I’m sure there will be a dialogue at some point about the crass nature of films like Good Boys, films that take the framework of a coming of age story and turn it into something debased and unseemly, it is a facile argument here as the film never seeks to corrupt anyone. The misunderstandings and comedy found are crafted around outside knowledge that never seeps into the collective consciousness of the core characters. Harmless in every sense of the word, writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky (also debuting as director here) might use sex, drugs and adult themes but they all come across as one big in-joke, one we can enjoy but also one Max, Thor, and Lucas are protected from.
A recurring joke about childproof medicine bottles perfectly sums up the tone Stupnitsky is shooting for and while there are a few off notes, a particularly off-colour comment about pubic hair in particular, the charm of Tremblay and especially Williams carry you through unoffended and sufficiently entertained. To say everything here works is entirely down to your willingness to embrace the ‘newness’ of Good Boys. From the novelty of children swearing to the all too frequent drug references, the jokes rely on the audience embracing all this as original, something that proves challenging in a world where the Kick-Ass series exists.
In fact, nothing about the film is surprising with every joke being set up awkwardly. Despite all this, the film is genuinely riotous yet less shocking than it should be, while still providing a healthy dose of belly laughs. Despite the coming of age subplot about drifting friendships ringing true it never feels fleshed out and the one-track minds of these characters mean Stupnitsky never truly explores the inquisitive nature of kids their age.
Good Boys flourishes outside of the boys entirely with a hefty chunk of the runtime devoted to the drug-fueled desires of two high school girls (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis), who provide an audience equivalent, one that tempers the childish stupidity of three naive sixth graders. Playing not only the role of antagonists they also play everything in between from surrogate parent to bad influence, something they manage while still employing their own youthful energy.
Working best when it recognises the need for a more adult perspective, this is a coming of age story sure, just not a very important or understanding one. It will make you laugh but the repetitive nature of the comedy makes the laughs feel played out well before the end. Even the films closing montage, one that embraces the lunacy of a child sniffing lines of fake cocaine, instead of tying up loose ends, shoots for nonsense humour. It is a film that knows exactly what it is doing, it just never manages to make what that is worth thinking about after you’ve left the cinema.