Funny hasn’t equaled money this year at the nation’s multiplexes. Comedy fans seem to have largely turned to streaming fare, including Netflix romcoms, stand-up specials — and endless rewatches of “The Office.”
Universal is hoping to reverse this trend with the R-rated “Good Boys,” written by “The Office” veterans Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky and directed by Stupnitsky. It’s the story of three foul-mouthed sixth-grade boys who decide to skip school one day in order to prepare for a kissing party. Jacob Tremblay’s character borrows his father’s drone to spy on girls, a plan which backfires spectacularly.
In March, the studio returned to SXSW, as it did with “Neighbors” in 2014 and “Blockers” in 2018, to preview the nearly-completed “Good Boys.” Like last year’s “Eighth Grade,” it’s being promoted to adults, even though it’s about 12-year-olds and the complexities of their friendship. So kids the age of the movie’s central characters will have to drag mom or dad to the theater if they’re interested in checking it out.
Eisenberg and Stupnitsky, both in their early 40s, began writing the script in 2013. They were heavily influenced by Rob Reiner’s much-admired 1986 coming-of-age movie “Stand by Me,” which starred River Phoenix and Will Wheaton.
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“When you’re 12, your friendships are the most important thing so the relationships have an operatic quality to them,” Eisenberg said. “It really is the most awkward age. The thing we talked about a lot was sending them out on the world’s shortest road trip since they can’t drive.”
The indignity of being a preteen is summed up by the one-sheet for the film, which shows the three boys looking up at a line marked “You must be this tall to see this movie.”
“We know that we have a movie that makes people laugh,” said Universal President Peter Cramer. “It feels fresh.”
“Good Boys” is being sold as being “From the guys who brought you ‘Superbad,’ ‘Neighbors’ and ’Sausage Party’” — those guys being Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who serve as producers through their Point Grey Pictures banner. Rogen starred in all three and produced “Neighbors” and “Sausage Party.”
“Superbad” was a massive hit with $170 million domestically. “Good Boys” is opening on the same weekend 12 years later — but in a radically different theatrical market for comedies.
Besides Tremblay, who impressed in “Wonder” and “Room,” “Good Boys” stars Brady Noon as an aspiring tough guy and Keith L. Williams as a sensitive kid whose parents are getting a divorce. The film is markedly different from “Superbad,” however, in how evolved its protagonists are for their age — perhaps reflective of a growing cultural intolerance to toxic masculinity and gender conventions, especially among young people. This group has no tolerance for calling girls “skanks,” kissing or any sexual advances without consent and, most surprisingly, drug use.
“What we were trying to do is capture that earnestness that sixth grade boys have,” said producer and Point Grey partner James Weaver.
“Good Boys” is the directorial debut for Stupnitsky, who teamed with Eisenberg on five seasons of “The Office” along with writing scripts for “Year One” and “Bad Teacher.”
“Directing is really hard — especially children,” he said. “We had to make sure to cast kids that were that young and I had to shoot everything at their eye level.”
Universal has had a solid track record with comedies including “Girls Trip,” “Trainwreck,” “Night School,” “Blockers,” “Neighbors” and “Bridesmaids.” But, comedies have lost much of their box office luster since a decade ago, when “The Hangover” scored a massive $277 million domestically on a $35 million budget and spawned two sequels.
Lionsgate’s “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral” is the top domestic grosser among live-action comedies so far in 2019 with $73 million followed by Universal’s romantic comedy “Yesterday’ at $65 million. After “Good Boys” comes out, the next major live-action comedy won’t come until mid-October, when Sony releases horror-comedy “Zombieland 2: Double Tap.”
Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Comscore, thinks comedies have lost originality, while horror films now seem fresher.
“Horror has exponentially grown and this is due in large part to the steady increase in the quality and thus the stature of the once marginalized genre,” he added. “Comedy needs to take a page from the horror playbook and start developing the kind of fresh and original comedy that resonated so strongly in years past and add a layer of quality and a ‘must see’ vibe that many horror films, like the upcoming ‘It: Chapter Two’ now enjoy.