Good Boys movie review: the razor edge of innocence

Good Boys Sam Richardson green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Much more sweet than raunchy, and surprisingly innocent. Genuinely kind to its young protagonists as they try to navigate a culture that doesn’t much care to protect them from growing up too soon.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of grossout this looked to be
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Parental alert! Good Boys, a day-in-the-life comedy about a trio of grade-school besties at that difficult moment right on the cusp of puberty, is absolutely not for children. In one of the film’s wickedly amusing trailers, producer Seth Rogen — who does not appear in the film — informs his young cast that while it’s fine for them to star in the movie, they are absolutely forbidden from actually seeing the movie. The film’s ratings — R in the US, 15 in the UK — are absolutely warranted… at least by the industry’s current metrics.

And yet Good Boys is much sweeter than I was expecting, and much more surprisingly innocent in its celebration of modern ascendant manhood. This is not a crass grossout but a story that is genuinely kind to its young protagonists, and authentically understanding of their tricky positions as 21st-century kids trying to navigate a culture that doesn’t much care to protect them from growing up too soon.

Good Boys Keith L. Williams Brady Noon Jacob Tremblay
Honestly, some grownups have a similar reaction to lots of Internet porn…

I’m genuinely stunned at how much things have improved, for instance, in the decade-plus on from the distasteful celebration of toxic male teenhood that was the also–Seth Rogen–driven Superbad. Good Boys is, well, supergood. (Rogen’s recent wokeness — see also Long Shot — seems actually genuine. They can be taught!)

Three sixth-grader boys (Jacob Tremblay [The Predator, Wonder], Keith L. Williams [Sadie], and Brady Noon) spend a day bunking off school to vie against older teen girls (Midori Francis [Ocean’s Eight] and Molly Gordon [Booksmart, Life of the Party]) — whom, thankfully!, they are not middle-school-romantically interested in — in a complicated plot involving drones, the mildest sort of party drugs, and making their way toward a grade-school “kissing party.” Mostly it’s about worrying that, at the tender age of 11, one might become a “social piranha”; securing consent to engage in any kind of physical contact with another kid; and ensuring that nothing one is doing constitutes bullying. These kids today, with their concrete physical and psychological boundaries! “We’re not kids, we’re tweens!” they declare, staking a claim on a developmental phase that didn’t exist for us adults when we were kids. *lolsob*

“We’re not kids, we’re tweens!” they declare, staking a claim on a developmental phase that didn’t exist for us when we were kids.

Yes, this is a movie full of jokes about sex toys — jokes that are funny because of the boys’ ignorance about what these objects are — about looking at Internet porn — which is funny because the boys are grossed out by it — and tons of other grownup stuff… all of which is depicted with a poignancy over how charmingly naive the boys remain even as they are steeped in a culture that is overly sexualized. (They mispronounce “cum.”) The humor here is adult, but Good Boys directly addresses real things that real kids are encountering in their real lives. We might be able — just barely — to keep kids from seeing this stuff in movies, but it’s almost impossible to entirely shield them from it everywhere else.

And so Good Boys becomes a provocative and unexpectedly sly challenge to our notions of what is suitable for children, and what isn’t. The copious content related to sex and drugs — these are not oblique references, and there’s nothing implied about any of it — are no more outrageous or shocking than what real children will be encountering in their curious considerations of and explorations in the adult world that are an inevitable part of growing up.

Good Boys Keith L. Williams Jacob Tremblay Brady Noon
Honestly, some grownups also need to be told not to misuse a drone…

This is a clever skewering, too — unless it’s an accidental one? — of modern Hollywood, which has no compunctions whatsoever of loading up even movies with no obvious audience beyond little kids with sexual innuendo, damaging stereotypes, and gleeful, consequence-free violence. Why is that okay for kids, but not straightforwardly examining how such attitudes impact them in the real world they live in?

Did I say this movie wasn’t for kids? Here’s a caveat: Though it might constitute an enormous embarrassment to the children, Good Boys might be a movie for openminded parents to watch with their older grade-schoolers, and to discuss the topics it broaches. If that’s too much for parents, at least adults worried about These Kids Today can take some reassurance. The good boys are handling a scary modern world in a way that’s not just pretty okay but probably downright healthy.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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