Here’s what I knew about “Good Boys” before the preview screening: The poster suggested that three young kids were the stars, two of whom I’d never seen, while the third was the boy in “Room.” It had an R rating. Seth Rogen was connected to it. For no specific reason, I almost opted out of seeing it.
Now I’m glad that I came to my senses. The three kids - Jacob Tremblay (“Room”), Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon - play Max, Lucas and Thor, pals since kindergarten who have just entered the sixth grade and are about to spend 90 minutes of screentime growing up very quickly. The R rating is due to cursing - lots of it, mostly out of the mouths of these kids - and to drug use, alcohol use and sexual references. Seth Rogen and his regular writing partner Evan Goldberg are onboard to keep a sense of outrageous humor going the for length of the film.
It sounds pretty raunchy, and it is, but the writing team of Gene Stupnitsky (who also directed) and Lee Eisenberg have achieved something unexpected, something rare in a Hollywood film: It’s racy and edgy and it broaches taboo subjects - after all, the principal characters are 12 years old - but it all comes across as innocent rather than vulgar.
Max, Lucas and Thor call themselves the Bean Bag Boys. They’re the equivalent to young Musketeers, always hanging out together, always there for each other. They’re, as the title suggests, good boys, but they believe they know more of the world than they really do, often acting inappropriately without realizing it.
Max is a little sweetheart (though he’s the biggest curser). His dilemma is that he has a crush on a girl at school but hasn’t even met her. Thor has aspirations to be a singer or at least get a part in the upcoming school production of “Rock of Ages,” but other kids make fun of him for that. Lucas is the best-behaved of the trio, always telling the truth, constantly spouting out anti-drug messages. But he’s burdened with the fact that his parents are getting divorced. He also screams like a little girl when he’s frightened, a hilarious bit that never gets tired.
The gist of the movie is that the Bean Bag Boys have been invited to a party being thrown by one of the “popular” kids at school, they’re convinced that it’s going to be a kissing party, and their only panicky question to each other is, “Do you guys know how to kiss?”
That’s about it. They want to go to a party, but they want to learn how to kiss first. Of course, that’s not enough to hold an audience or, in the case of the screening I attended, make that audience laugh - loud and often - through most of the film. So it’s bolstered by myriad ingredients: a borrowed drone that’s used to spy on some older kids, a competition to see who can handle the most sips of beer, a misunderstanding about some drugs - specifically Molly, which our young, naïve heroes label a “sex drug” (no, they do not take any of it) - a sex doll - which our heroes believe is a CPR doll - and in a “don’t try this at home” sequence, the challenge of crossing a busy, multi-lane freeway.
The three kids are a joy, even when they’re cursing or unknowingly blurting out things that should never be blurted, all resulting in slightly shocking but good-humored effect. They give completely natural, enthusiastic performances and whoever put them together got the casting coup of the year. In a side plot involving drugs, there’s also terrific acting from two antagonist older-girl characters - Hannah and Lily - played by Molly Gordon and Midori Francis.
This is a very sweet movie about friendship and growing pains. Because of the chances it takes with risky topics and all of that cursing, it could offend some straight-laced viewers. Those of you in that category have been warned. It also happens to be a wise, well-intentioned, never preachy movie, featuring a wonderful script and - this is always important - a great punchline.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky; directed by Gene Stupnitsky
With Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis