Good Boys taking the box office lead as the biggest original comedy of the year, admittedly, feels a little frustrating. The female-led and infinitely more accomplished debut from Olivia Wilde, Booksmart, was right there, and even Seth Rogen’s new political outing Long Shot was a little more sophisticated than his usual Apatow fare. Arriving with the easiest pitch in the world, ‘Superbad for sixth graders’, but if you’re unfamiliar with the equivalent schooling years of the American education system, Good Boys features three twelve-year-olds trying to prove their manhood. To do this they steal beer, antagonise teenage girls, and try to secure invites to one of their cool school friend’s infamous ‘kissing parties’.
It’s familiar pre-adolescent, Nickolodeon hijinks, with an R-rated twist. Jacob Tremblay proves himself remarkably malleable as the head of the trio. Previously known for sentimental heartstring tuggers Room and Wonder, he breaks his mould of fragility by delivering the film’s first, and early, vulgarity. I’m not quite sure whether producers Seth Rogen and co. were aiming for the self-confident brashness of Jonah Hill or the tempered insecurity of Michael Cera – he often falls haphazardly in the middle as a sort of hybrid of Superbad’s co-leads – but he manages to make the film just about work.
Unfortunately, Good Boys’ initially disarming conceit eventually wears thin. Twelve-year-olds spouting barely understood obscenities and ludicrous sexual boasts can certainly work but have been exercised to a much more subtle and effective degree in films like Son of Rambow. Even the recent Eighth Grade managed to hit its gags harder whilst still delivering its message of transitional tweenhood with surpassing gravitas. Now R-rated comedies are enjoying, or is at least anticipating somewhat of a resurgence, ‘the guys that brought you Knocked Up’ should be looking to try a little bit harder in future.
That isn’t to say Good Boys is completely bereft of decent comedic riffs, set pieces and asides. There’s an extended tangent involving a hugely inappropriate school production of Rock of Ages that had me in stitches, and, in one sequence, the gang essentially visit the set of Bad Neighbours to infiltrate a young drug dealer’s fraternity. Any opportunity to take a group of obnoxious frat boys down a peg is warmly welcomed.
I was rather thankful, if anything, that the film wasn’t populated by a vast array of Saturday Night Live or Freaks and Geeks alums. The titular ‘good boys’ are not yet accomplished comedic performers, so there’s a tighter dependency on its winning script in comparison to earlier Apatow fare. Rather than standing around throwing out increasingly exhausting improv and pop culture references, Good Boys hits the gag and moves on. Not everything sticks to the wall, but the 90-minute runtime feels brisk and its narrative threads feel earned rather than reeking of the self-indulgence that the often 120 minute plus blockbuster comedies frequently exude.
Good Boys feels a little too familiar to make its mark as one of 2019’s stand-out comedies. In a surprisingly exceptional year for the dwindling genre, its status as the highest earner amongst its comedic competition doesn’t seem earnt, but the re-tread of familiar high school tropes with a sweary twist at least avoids feeling like a regretful experience. Its intended adolescent audience won’t be able to see this in the cinemas, so this is pure Netflix fare once its theatrical release runs out of steam. Definitely the most lightweight comedy of the year, but Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon are talents to look out for.
Words by Lucas Hill-Paul