Thursday, October 3, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Good Boys

Good Boys was written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, and directed by Gene Stupnitsky.

Eisenberg and Stupnitsky are working partners, who've mostly written for TV. They're probably best known for writing many episodes of The Office. On the theatrical side, the two previously wrote Year One (!) and Bad Teacher.

Stupnitsky previously directed a couple episodes of The Office. Good Boys is his cinematic directorial debut.

The movie was produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (among many others). They're the creative team who've brought us numerous R-rated raunch comedies over the years, such as Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, This Is The End, Neighbors, The Interview, Sausage Party and The Disaster Artist.

On the surface, Good Boys seems like nothing more than a gimmick comedy. 
One in which the filmmakers take a trio of sixth graders, have 'em curse like sailors and that in itself becomes the joke.

Fortunately there's more to the movie than just foul-mouthed tweens. In fact it features a surprising amount of realistic drama and emotion. You might even say it has heart!

And therein lies my problem with the film. Based on the trailers, I was not expecting a thoughtful examination of childhood relationships, and how friends change over time and grow apart.

And yet that's exactly what we get. The entire third act feels like a completely different film, as it suddenly becomes a Hallmark Channel movie. In fact the change in tone from raunchy comedy to feel-good schmaltz was so abrupt I nearly got whiplash.

Worst of all, this sappiness feels completely unearned, given all the prior scenes of porn, drugs and sex dolls. It feels tacked on, as if the filmmakers realized their creation had no soul, so they added it to give the movie the illusion it has a heart. Feh.

So far the film's grossed $104 million worldwide against its minuscule $20 million budget, making it a box office hit.


The Plot:
Max (played by Jacob Tremblay) Thor (played by Brady Noon) and Lucas (played by Keith L. Williams) are three typical sixth graders and best friends for life, calling themselves "The Beanbag Boys." They're not without their problems though— Max has a major crush on his classmate Brixlee, but is too scared to tell her. Thor loves singing and dancing, but drops out of the school play after being teased by bullies. And Lucas' idyllic home life is turned upside down when his parents announce they're getting a divorce.

Max is unexpectedly invited to a "kissing party" being thrown by Soren, the coolest kid in school. When Max learns Brixlee will be there, he realizes it's his chance to finally make his move. Unfortunately neither he nor his friends have the slightest idea how to kiss a girl.

The three get the bright idea to learn by observing their teenaged neighbor Hannah and her boyfriend Benji. They try to spy on them through a fence, but can't get a good look at the smooching couple. Thor and Lucas then talk Max into using his father's drone— which he's been forbidden to ever touch— to spy on them.

Max flies the drone over the fence, just as Benji breaks up with Hannah and leaves. Hannah and her best friend Lily see the drone spying on them, grab it and refuse to give it back. Max and the others then steal Hannah and Lily's bottle of ecstasy and demand they hand over the drone. In all the hubbub the drone's destroyed, and Max and his friends run off with the girls' drugs.

Max says when his dad finds out about the drone, he'll be grounded for life and miss his chance to kiss Brixlee. Thor and Lucas suggest replacing the drone, but Max says it cost hundreds of dollars. Thor suggests they sell their rare and valuable Ascension card that the three chipped in on and swore to keep forever.

They attempt to sell it to a local gaming nerd, but at the last second Lucas backs out of the deal, claiming it's just not right. The gamer then notices that Thor's father owns a Real Girl sex doll, and buys it for $450.

The boys skip school and spend the second act attempting to reach the mall on their bikes. Along the way they encounter an off duty policeman, who just wants to go home and couldn't care less what the boys are up to. They believe he's about to arrest them for playing hooky though, and surrender the ecstasy to him.

After many trials and tribulations they finally reach the mall, only to find the last drone was sold to... Hannah and Lily. The girls offer to trade the new drone for their drugs, but the boys admit they gave it to the cop. The girls then take the boys to Benji's frat house, and tell them to buy some more pills from him. The boys ask for Benji, and manage to score a new bottle of pills from him.

The two groups make their trade, and Max finally gets the drone. Just then his father calls, saying he's coming home early. Unable to get back and replace the drone in time, Max attempts to fly it into his house. He does so, but he's not a very good pilot, and the drone's blades destroy the home in the process.

Max's father immediately realizes what happened and grounds Max. Their ordeal causes the three best friends to begin arguing, and The Beanbag Boys break up and go their separate ways.

Max is devastated that he's missing the party and won't get to kiss Brixlee. Lucas knocks on his window and talks him into sneaking out, reasoning that he can't get more grounded than he already is. They meet up with Thor, and Max realizes Lucas tricked them both into reuniting.

The three go to Soren's party, where Max successfully kisses Brixlee. Thor and Lucas feel left out and go upstairs to play videogames. They're surprised when they run into Hannah and Lily, who're both hopped up on ecstasy. The boys wonder what the two teens are doing at the party, and Lily reveals she's Soren's sister. The boys tell them their troubles, and the girls encourage Thor to sing again if it makes him happy.

Cut to a montage of The Beanbag Boys over the next few weeks. Max and Brixlee date and ultimately break up, and he ends up with a girl named Scout. Thor lands the lead in the school musical. Lucas, who loves rules and authority, joins the school's anti-bullying league and comes to terms with his parents' divorce.

After the musical, The Beanbag Boys reconcile and promise they'll always be friends.

• Jacob Tremblay, who plays Max, definitely needs to find a new agent, stat. He made an impressive splash for himself in 2016 when he starred in Room (not THE Room!), which was nominated for several Oscars. 

Unfortunately he immediately squandered all that good will by appearing in The Book Of Henry, which was widely hailed as one of the worst movies of the decade. He then went on to star in 2018's execrable The Predator, as a young boy whose autism superpowers make him desirable to titular aliens (yes, you read that right).

Good Boys is a slight step up from those two films, but Tremblay really needs to start choosing his projects more carefully, before he ends up as a "celebrity" on Match Game or Dancing With The Stars.

By the way, Good Boys almost makes up for Tremblay's role in The Predator. Almost.

• There's a running joke through the movie in the three leads can't open the child-proof cap on a bottle of pills. Hannah and Lily can't seem to open the bottle either, and they're teens. In fact no one under the age of twenty one seems to be able to figure out how to get the cap off.

• Let's talk about the Good Boys movie poster, shall we? First of all, I think this may be the first time in history that a film's rating has been incorporated into its logo!

I get it— the filmmakers want to make sure parents know this isn't a Disney or Nickelodeon move, and to keep their kids far away.

Secondly, what the hell's up with actor Keith L. Williams (the one on the left) in this poster? For one thing they made him the same height as the other two boys, when in reality he was at least a foot and a half taller than them. And what's the deal with his expression? They've given him a terrifying scowl that would make Ice Cube proud, which is about as far away from the characters's ultra-sweet and innocent personality as you could get.

By the way, the warning on the poster didn't work. Neither did the large sign at the ticket counter, cautioning parents that this was not a movie for kids. Predictably, there were several dozen families, complete with children well under ten, present at my screening. Have fun explaining what a sex doll is to your six year olds, Parents Of The Year!

• In the third act the boys finally get a replacement drone. Unfortunately Max finds out his father's coming home early, and he won't be to replace the drone in time. He gets the bright idea to take the drone out of the box and fly it back to his house before his father returns.

Yeah, nice try movie, but I ain't buying it. There's no way in hell a drone would come fully charged right out of the box. In reality Max would have had to charge the battery for a good hour or two before he could fly it. Maybe longer!

Subverted Expectations: All through the movie The Beanbag Boys are antagonized by Hannah and Lily. Late in the third act though the two girls relent and are actually nice to Thor and Lucas.

Granted, Hannah and Lily were high as hell when they did this, but still... I was not expecting them to become frenemies.

• One of The Beanbag Boys' classmates is a named "Atticus." At the end of the movie, Max breaks up with Brixlee and hooks up with a girl named "Scout."

Coincidence? Or are the screenwriters big fans of To Kill A Mockingbird?

Good Boys could have been a run of the mill gimmick comedy, but it manages to subvert expectations by giving us a cast of characters who act like actual tweens (complete with lots of cursing). It's mildly entertaining, but lost me in the third act when it abruptly switches tones in a desperate attempt to convince the audience it has heart. I give it a B-.

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