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19° & CLOUDY ON SUNDAY 15 DECEMBER IN AUCKLAND
By Sarah Ward
September 22, 2019
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Good Boys

Charming, sincere and very funny, this comedy takes 'Superbad' back to the sixth grade.
By Sarah Ward
September 22, 2019
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Before the high-schoolers who populate every teen movie start worrying about heading off to college and having sex for the first time, they're tweens with not-too-dissimilar problems. That's the premise behind the familiar but very funny Good Boys, which leans so far into its Superbad-lite status that it has even enlisted Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as producers. Instead of two horny 17-year-olds, this scaled-down coming-of-age comedy focuses on a trio of sixth graders. Instead of finding its characters on the cusp of graduation, it meets them as they start middle school. And instead of turning up to a lively shindig on a quest to lose their virginity, Good Boys' pre-teen protagonists navigate the age-appropriate equivalent: their first kissing party.

The comparisons keep coming, although writer/director Gene Stupnitsky and his co-scribe Lee Eisenberg (the screenwriting duo behind Bad Teacher and Year One) don't just tread in Superbad's footsteps. Good Boys' predecessor boasted more than a little in common with Can't Hardly Wait, which in turn took Dazed and Confused's lead — and they all nodded to American Graffiti before that. Just a couple of months back, Booksmart did something similar too, using a firmly female-focused viewpoint to its advantage. There's not as obvious a point of difference here, with tween and teen boys getting mixed up in almost the same types of situations. But what Good Boys lacks in originality or perspective, it makes up for in charm, sincerity and a stellar cast of young talent.

In a few years, Max (Jacob Tremblay), Thor (Brady Noon) and Lucas (Keith L. Williams) could relive these kinds of hijinks at the end of their high-school days — a thought that's probably crossed Stupnitsky, Eisenberg, Rogen and Goldberg's minds — but for now, they just want to be liked by the cool kids in their grade. And that seems possible after the lifelong buddies score a coveted invite to Soren's (Izaac Wang) pashing party. Alas, while Max is driven by his all-consuming crush on classmate Brixlee (Millie Davis), his friends have their own troubles. Thor is desperate to nab a role in the school production of Rock of Ages, but also desperate to seem like he doesn't care, while the gleefully dorky Lucas is struggling with news of his parents' (Retta and Lil Rel Howery) impending divorce. Plus, when the pals aren't trying to brush up on puckering up, they're unwittingly getting involved in drug deals with Max's older neighbour Hannah (Molly Gordon) and her bestie Lily (Midori Francis).

Much of Good Boys' humour hits instantly and flows easily, as kids say the darnedest things in highly inappropriate circumstances — searching for "porb" and mistaking sex toys for weapons, for example. As the film's marketing campaign made a point of stressing, this may be a picture about children, but it definitely isn't for them in any shape or form. There's a more resonant layer to the gags, too — which, in a movie that spends plenty of time giggling as its central tweens swear, might not immediately seem the case. To see Max, Thor and Lucas not just face the reality that they're growing up, but explore an adult world that feels so strange and different to their pre-teen grasp on reality, is to remember the confusing ups and downs of going through the same process yourself.

That said, this isn't a mere exercise in raucousness and nostalgia shaped around episodic antics, such as skipping school, sipping beers and running away from cops. Like Booksmart before it, Good Boys grounds its jokes, narrative and outlook in today's cultural and societal standards. In other words: goodbye lazy stereotypes and outdated views, and hello inclusiveness, emotional intelligence, and seeing these boys learn to respect women, themselves and each other. Stupnitsky and Eisenberg are still guilty of padding out the picture with a few too many recognisable scenarios, even with its brief 90-minute running time. But their film glows with authenticity nonetheless — because, for all the outlandishness they encounter, these kids always react in realistic ways.

As much as Good Boys has an affable, genuine vibe on its side, it wouldn't work quite as well without its three child stars. Room's Tremblay, Boardwalk Empire's Noon and The Last Man on Earth's Williams not only sell their rapport, but play their parts with honesty and earnestness — and without a hint of precociousness. The bike-riding trio also shrugs off a Stranger Things insult, in a line that speaks beyond pop culture's current obsession with plucky children (see also: IT and IT: Chapter Two). Swap Good Boys' crudeness for a dash of the supernatural, after all, and this sweet, breezy and amusing film would fit nicely among all those classic 80s adventures.

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