The characters in Good Boys were born the year Superbad came out (2007), so they probably don’t realize they’re living in a remake of it. The girls in Booksmart didn’t know, either. No one can say why Superbad is the 2000s raunch-com that’s inspiring filmmakers in 2019, but we now have two fine updates — one that switched the genders, one that keeps the genders but makes them younger — to remind us that no matter how much the world changes, adolescents remain horny.
And the world has changed since 2007 (that was two presidents ago!), in ways relevant to this material. Our 12-year-old heroes — sweet and normal Max (Jacob Tremblay), brash Thor (Brady Noon), and cheerful rule-follower Lucas (Keith L. Williams) — are part of a generation of boys being taught consent and respect when it comes to girls, a generation where school bullying is no longer considered a benign rite of passage. The pervy ways of yesteryear’s sex comedies, with their locker-room spying and drunk-girl-exploiting, aren’t acceptable anymore. What’s a boy to do?
These kids, an inseparable trio since kindergarten, are in their second week of sixth grade and having a hard time fitting in. When Max lucks into an invitation to a party hosted by the coolest boy in their grade — a little Asian American baller named Soren (Izaac Wang) who is, in fact, cooler than me — the three see it as a chance to improve their fortunes. Max might be able to kiss the girl he has a crush on, and Thor can impress everyone with how much beer he drinks (the record is three sips). Lucas, whose parents are divorcing, is happy to be along for the ride but nervous about all the rule-breaking involved.
But Max can’t go to the party if he’s grounded, which he will be if his dad (Will Forte) gets home from his business trip before Max and the boys replace the drone they lost. You see, they wanted to learn how to kiss to prep for the party, and, unable to find any kissing in the porn they googled, they sent the drone to spy on neighbor high schooler Hannah (Molly Gordon) in her backyard, hoping they’d catch her and her boyfriend making out. Instead, though, Hannah and her friend Lily (Midori Francis) confiscated the drone, leading Thor to steal Hannah’s purse in retaliation, inside of which was a vitamin bottle containing MDMA (or “Molly” as the kids call it). Hannah and Lily are willing to swap the drone for the drugs, but the boys (Lucas in particular), raised on anti-drug PSAs, are adamant about not enabling them to be “junkies.” They really are Good Boys, you know.
The film was directed by Gene Stupnitsky, written by him and his Bad Teacher partner Lee Eisenberg. Superbad star Jonah Hill and Superbad writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg served as producers, too. Here are five men with experience in making transgressive comedies and, more importantly, experience in being adolescent boys who grew up. It’s with affection that the film highlights the boys’ misuse of words (“we’ll be social piranhas”), their absurd romantic claims, their obsession with sex juxtaposed with their total unfamiliarity with it, their initial panic and terror when the learn the party is a “kissing party.” We smile at how, for example, the boys are prevented from accidentally ingesting the Molly because the bottle it’s in has a childproof cap. For as vulgar as the film is, it’s also quite sweet, even gentle.
That’s especially true in the last act, when the three realize that getting older and more mature means they might develop different interests and take different paths. We rarely have the same friends at graduation that we did in sixth grade — a sobering thought when you’re in sixth grade. Good Boys isn’t as uproarious as some of its predecessors (including the specific forefather mentioned earlier), and it leans too much on the kids’ naiveté for laughs. But the endearing performances and the characters’ underlying decency give it a lot of heart. As “boys will be boys” gives way to “boys will be respectful of others,” these Generation Z tweens provide evidence that we can be civilized and still have a lot of fun.