Innocence Not Quite Lost
Foul-mouthed 12-year old boys. That’s how “Good Boys” has been marketed, and not without reason. The MPAA assigned it an “R” rating, for “strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout - all involving tweens.” But the constant “F” word functions here more as a veneer of toughness than language we care about. The movie’s justifiable box office success is due not to the F bomb, but to a smart script by Lee Eisenberg and director Gene Stupnitsky (writers for many episodes of TV’s “The Office”) that carefully delineates the main characters, and to the film’s moving exploration of innocence, not quite lost.
The “Bean Bag Boys,” as the three protagonists call themselves, are a gang—the pre-teen word “club” might be more accurate—of 6th-grade outsiders who revel in their togetherness. While seeking to enter and explore the world of young adulthood, they seem not to know that “bean bag boys” doesn’t sound all that cool, invoking something closer to the sand box than the basement make-out party (that will occur later in the film). Although on the cusp of sexuality, the tweens seem woefully—and at times, incredibly--ignorant of it. One accesses pornography on the internet but, like the others, doesn’t know how to kiss. Another appears not to know the word “anal,” brandishing “anal beads” as if they were lethal nunchucks. It takes a barely-older obnoxious sister (Lina Renna) to wise them up, if just a bit. Innocence extends to the group’s school-based nemesis—an in-crowd, light-bullying bunch that claims high maturity but defines it as the ability to drink three sips of beer. The bean-baggers learn a few things over the course the film, but in its final, poignant moment, the boys cavort in a bedroom sex swing, thinking it’s a piece of indoor playground equipment.
“Good Boys” has a plot—a day playing hooky from school (evocative of Ferris Bueller’s day off), with a drone drama center stage and drugs in the wings, and two sexy and savvy but non-threatening 20-year-old girls as counterpoints (Molly Gordon as Hannah, Midori Francis as Lily). All this hardly matters, except to reveal the different personalities, values and, ultimately, trajectories of Lucas, Thor, and Max. “I-like-rules” Lucas (Keith L. Williams) is black, neurotic, magic-card obsessed, and compelled to tell the truth (a clever plot device used more than once), as he does to a cop in a hilarious scene in a convenience store. A talented singer, Thor (Brady Noon) is the group’s cowardly lion, concerned to avoid the abuse of the bullies but lacking the courage and commitment to adventure that requires. The little gang’s leader, Max (Jacob Tremblay, not yet 13, who starred in “Room,” 2015), combines Ferris’s spontaneity with Dorothy’s planning and moxy. He’s a romantic who craves a relationship, and the most sexually advanced of the three. Will Forte is perfect as his smarmy father, catching Max masturbating and praising him for his growing maturity (“That’s your friend down there”). Yet even Max has a foot in pre-adolescence, giving one of the above sex-toy items to his love interest, thinking it a necklace.
Inevitably, there’s a lot of over-the-top zany stuff, including a bicycle chase, a paint-ball fraternity-house fracas, a thruway pileup that spills a CPR/sex doll onto the pavement, and an out-of-control drone—enough to keep the interest of, well, a 12-year-old. Balancing all this preposterous silliness is the tension between the desire of the boys to hold on to the intimacy they share (“Bean Bag Boys Forever!”) and the incipient signs that they are headed along different paths as they grow up (shades of “American Graffiti”). Ever the romantic, the calculating Max will have girlfriends and heartbreaks and could one day be student body president. Having learned to be true to himself (to be inner-directed rather than other-directed), Thor is primed for a career as a singer. Earnest, PC Lucas finds his calling as a member of the Student Coalition Against Bullying, or SCAB. The future isn’t here yet, but it’s coming.
Director: Gene Stupnitsky
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis, Will Forte, Lina Renna
Runtime: 89 minutes