“Good Boys” is an easy elevator pitch: “Superbad” for ages 8-12 that maintains the sweet confusion of tweens but liberally uses curse words.
Executive producer Seth Rogen must have had minimal pushback at distributor Universal Pictures, as the film has the stuff that classic coming-of-age comedies are made of (even an obligatory “Stand By Me” confrontation in the woods). What’s new is the shock value of tots like Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) adopting adult rage and a potty mouth when derailed from his goals, like attending a party with his schoolyard crush.
What was unexpected and refreshing at the SXSW premiere of the film on Monday night in Austin was how enlightened the social and budding sexual politics were among the movie’s children (and they are children).
Calling girls “skanks,” kissing or any sexual advances without consent and, most surprisingly, drug use were all on a list of no-no’s for Tremblay and his co-stars Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon.
About three best friends dubbed “the bean bag boys,” the film centers on their mission to attend a “kissing party’ at the home of their school’s most popular kid. Noon suggests the boys practice their skills on a “CPR doll” in his father’s closet, which is of course an absurd sex doll. When Tremblay moves to kiss the doll, Williams scolds, “Not without consent!” and reminds his friend about an assembly they attended on the matter.
A subplot about two teenage girls hunting down the boys for a bottle of MDMA they inadvertently stole leads to earnest but hilarious lectures about how “drugs ruin lives and communities.” Even microaggressions around slut-shaming lead to conversations within the friend group about how boys should speak to girls. Their middle school has a volunteer task force of kids that police bullying in real time.
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“A lot of that is thanks to Point Grey,” the film’s debut director Gene Stupnitsky said at a Q&A after the screening, referring the Rogen and partner Evan Goldberg’s production company. “It’s never about being mean for a laugh, their comedy punches up, not down.”
The film did deliver laugh after laugh at the Paramount Theater without leaning on oversexed boys and vapid girls. It also refused to lionize the kids brave enough to indulge in drinking or drugging (there is a contest to see which kid could drink the most of a loose beer, but going past four sips is “insane” in the world of this movie).
The individual sensitivities of these main characters is not what binds them as misfits, it’s what makes them compelling. They are not less than for wanting to sing in a school play, being too shy to kiss a dream girl or revel in the approval and company of their parents. It’s what makes them unique and powerful, and they know and celebrate that here, even if some peripheral characters try to shame them for it.
Those qualities extended to the actors. All three agreed the best part about the three-month shoot was getting to curse on camera, “because we’re not allowed to swear at home,” said Noon.
Tremblay said he read the script with his parents to help them feel more comfortable and give them a chance to explain his many questions about what it contained. Scene-stealer Williams said that at first, he was hesitant to accept the part because of its adult-skewing content.
“My mother told me to pray on it,” he told the audience, who met him with applause. He eventually accepted the part. Even at their worst behaved on screen, the stars of “Good Boys” are some good boys.