MPAA Rating: R
USCCB Rating: O
Reel Rating: 2 out of 5 reels
One of the most shocking events of my childhood occurred during the spring in my sixth grade year. I discovered that one of my best friends was secretly exchanging romantic handholding with a girl behind the schoolyard bushes during recess. I was disgusted, furious, and determined to put an end to his betrayal of our oaths never to be taken in by these succubae. Inspired by my heroes Mulder and Scully, I spied on them and created a series of memos entitled “The Crush Files,” a scathing expose of their forbidden love that I generously passed around my school. Pre-adolescence is a truly bizarre time.
Good Boys attempts to capture all the humor and heartbreak of this strange time of transition, but goes about it in the worst way imaginable. The title is meant to be ironic, but – oddly enough – the film’s characters may have lived up to it, even if the filmmakers did not.
Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams), and Thor (Brady Noon), best friends since kindergarten, call themselves “the Bean Bag Boys”, a title inspired by their favorite furniture. They enter sixth grade determined to become popular, and when Max takes a sip of beer on a dare, they get invited to their first Kissing Party. Fearful about their lack of experience, Max borrows the family drone to spy on their college neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon), hoping to catch her making out. When she confiscates the drone, they steal her purse, not knowing it contains illegal drugs for a concert. Through a series of descending events, our heroes must get more drugs from Hannah’s ex, make four hundred dollars to buy another drone, and fix Lucas’ dislocated arm – all without getting grounded.
It’s a typical Saturday afternoon in tween Hollywood.
Like Harry Potter or Stranger Things, Good Boys has incredible casting. All three leads are superb. Tremblay is clearly the veteran of the bunch with a SAG nom already under his belt, but I suspect Williams and Noon are not be far behind. Max is an early bloomer who desperately want to kiss his crush and is deathly afraid of getting sexually aroused at any moment. Lucas comes from a traditional black Baptist family and enjoys playing Ascension while being too hip for drugs. Thor is an art geek with one earring, a boy band haircut, and the voice of an angel. It’s a typical ship of fools, but when a traditional archetype really works, it sings.
The first problem, impossible to overlook, is that Good Boys places twelve-year-old children in shockingly crude and profane situations. Most of the humor is based on the boys’ lack of sexual knowledge. In one scene, they find a cache of sex toys and use them for home defense. All of actors, including its many minors, curse constantly, especially Thor who said the f-word so many times I lost track after about thirty. Yes, when parents are outside ear shot, tweens are bound to push the limits. But this is ridiculous. It is, however, unsurprising as most the film’s producers cut their teeth at the Judd Apatow school of comedy. For Catholics, the proper understanding of the term “scandal” is not newsworthy gossip but revealing sin to the innocent. Unfortunately, the works of devil are forced upon younger and younger generations, and sweet and gentle Jesus has harsh words for such corruptors.
Despite its overall and serious problems, Good Boys gets one thematic element perfect: middle school is often horrible. Too old to be kids, too young to be adults, the lives of tweens are constantly filled with pain and embarrassment. The honesty of Good Boys is refreshing. When Lucas’ parents break the news that they are divorcing, it is spun by the adults as a good thing. “You’ll get two Taco Tuesdays, just one on a Tuesday and one on a Wednesday,” the dad smiles. Kids know better, and Lucas is clearly devastated. In their quest to acquire kissing skills, the trio inevitably go to pornography. Yet, this is not the enlightening moment as Playboy would have us believe. They are rightfully disgusted, terrified, and left with more questions than answers. “They didn’t kiss even once!” Lucas declares. St. John Paul II would have some interesting observations about this statement.
These are kids who are struggling and desperate for guidance, but all they have are adults who haven’t ever grown up. When the boys get to the party, the host mom meets them at the door. “Everyone is in the basement,” she smiles. “Don’t worry. I don’t even want to know what’s going on down there.” Max’s father is the worst. When he catches his son glancing at immodest images, he only smiles and reminisces about his own battle with puberty. Later, he freely admits, “Son, I love you and always will, but I don’t like you.”
By some miracle, there is a happy ending where everyone realizes that faking popularity only leads to misery. Max gets his kiss and is surprisingly respectful of women. Lucas joins the anti-bullying club and becomes king of the CCG nerds. Thor dumps the tough guy image and snags the lead in the upcoming musical. They learn an important maxim of adolescent friendships. It’s okay if relationships change. Be happy for them. Life goes on. Etc.
I am rarely torn over the ultimate assessment to a film. It’s understandable that Catholics – or anyone with good taste – could not only dislike Good Boys but claim it “exploits child actors.” Yet, I was continually surprised by the intelligence, bravery, and insight of the main characters. Good Boys is a beautiful, delicate dish of caviar that someone dumped a 68¢ can of Hormel chili into. I can’t recommend it except for the most jaded and thick-skinned viewer, which is a shame because it could have been a masterpiece.
Postscript: A year after the incident in my opening paragraph, I started dating the same girl in question, and we were a couple for the rest of middle school. She was both my first serious girlfriend and my first unbearable heartbreak. The middle school I attended was operated by Missouri Synod Lutherans. They ran a curriculum that many would consider oppressive: daily Bible quizzes, essays on debunking evolution, and a total absence of “sexual education.” Yet every single person in my anecdote: the friend, the girl, and myself, would go on to successful careers, happy marriages, and at least three children each. To my knowledge, only a single divorce has come from the class of 2000. This is proof the middle school can be survived.
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