Middle school isn’t easy, especially for a trio of sixth-grade losers like Max, Lucas and Thor.
Longtime best friends, they spend most of their afternoons playing fantasy trading-card games while planted firmly in their bean bag chairs, a pastime that has led them to dub themselves the “Bean Bag Boys.” Until now, their dorky, socially out-of-touch nature wasn’t that big of a concern — they had each other, and that’s all that mattered — but social divides have clearly started to form among their increasingly hormonal peers. And when Max is invited to a party featuring the popular kids, his crush and an inevitable game of spin-the-bottle, he and his pals embark on a quest to prepare for what could be the most important night of their very young lives.
Oh, and that quest involves a broken arm, a fight with frat guys, a smuggled bottle of beer, a hyper-realistic “CPR doll,” a bottle of ecstasy and countless curse words. Welcome to what might be the world’s first R-rated pre-teen comedy.
The one-crazy-day premise is hardly a new one to the coming-of-age genre. It’s clear from the beginning that “Good Boys” — much like another film released this summer, “Booksmart” — pays heavy homage to 2007’s “Superbad,” and at many points it feels like a beat-for-beat, prepubescent remake of it. This isn’t surprising, given that “Superbad” co-writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg serve as producers on this movie.
But what “Good Boys” lacks in originality of concept, it repays with magnetic child performances, genuinely moving moments and some of the best laughs any film has to offer so far this year.
Though more foul-mouthed and worldly than any 11-year-old ought to be, leads Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon carry the film’s many adult-oriented gags and potent adolescent awkwardness with timing and punchiness beyond their years. Even when sharing the screen with teens, twenty-somethings or famous adult comedians like Will Forte and Retta, the youngsters take charge and win hearts scene after scene. Williams in particular takes the cake as breakout star, his vocal affectations alone able to elicit endless giggles.
Beyond the bottomless trove of sex- and substance-related humor, “Good Boys” also paints a remarkably realistic picture of what it’s like to be young and experience changing friendships and life stages. As their adventure tests them more and more, the Bean Bag Boys inevitably become strained, forcing them to recognize their differences and come to terms with how they fit the middle-school mold — whether together or on their own. Thanks to effective writing and performances, not to mention a hilarious montage set to a Foreigner song, this potentially out-of-place moral fits right into the narrative and ought to keep adults invested in and relating to the titular tweens.
It should go without saying that despite the age of the main cast, “Good Boys” isn’t a flick to show the kids. But while its central characters aren’t nearly old enough to see their own movie unsupervised, they still have comedic chops that will leave audiences gasping for air until the credits roll.
John Battiston is a Times-Mirror reporter and a founder of the Reel Underdogs podcast. Contact him at email@example.com. Reel Underdogs is not affiliated with the Times-Mirror.