When kids say the darnedest things, audiences laugh. There’s something inherently funny about children using adult language. Maybe it’s because many of us remember the scoldings we received from our parents and teachers about using forbidden words or that formative moment we first heard a curse word and didn’t know what it meant.
Young characters using age-inappropriate language is something that never seems to get old, and it’s a common joke setup for shows like “South Park” and “Family Guy.” Unlike animated shows where adults voice underage characters, your mileage may vary on a raunchy comedy starring real tweens saying dirty things.
In Gene Stupnitsky’s feature debut, “Good Boys,” three sixth-grade boys get into a day’s worth of misadventures when their curiosity leads them from an awkward situation to a few dangerous or traumatizing moments. Max (Jacob Tremblay, “Wonder”) is the de facto leader of the trio and just as he nurses his first big crush, Max receives his first invitation to a kissing party. He insists on bringing along his two best friends, Lucas (Keith L. Williams, “The Last Man on Earth”), a sensitive do-gooder who can’t keep secrets, and Thor (Brady Noon, “Boardwalk Empire”), an impulsive oddball with a love of musicals and an already embarrassing nickname of “Sippy Cup.” Neither of them helps Max’s plan to be accepted by the cool kids at their middle school.
Tremblay, Williams and Noon are almost painfully cute in their characters’ cluelessness about sex, sex toys and what certain words actually mean. They meet their match in a pair of older girls next door who catch the boys spying on them, and the age differences between the two groups make for a hilarious showdown. A number of the movie’s jokes rely on the kids’ innocence about these grown-up words and matters. However, once the initial shock and giggles have worn off, the potty-mouthed punchlines can feel overdone. It’s a joke with diminishing returns; once you get used to them to cursing, it’s not as funny.
Stupnitsky and his writing partner Lee Eisenberg (“Bad Teacher”) keep things moving at a brisk pace with wild situations for kids who aren’t old enough to drive yet. The script smartly addresses how talking about and to girls is changing, and there are a few jokes about consent that aren’t entirely regressive. The boys dig out their parents’ sex toys, thinking them to be weapons, and in one cringe-worthy moment, use one of them as a gift for a girl in the boys’ grade.
There’s a lot for the boys to misunderstand or not know about, and the movie doles out new objects for them to react to right up until the end of the film. These jokes set off roars of laughter at the film’s premiere at South-by-Southwest, so much so that some of the follow-up dialogue was drowned out.
“Good Boys” shares a few connections with some of the adult comedies also produced by longtime friends and producing partners Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen. There’s a common theme about deep friendships among men and boys in movies like “Superbad,” “The Interview” and “This is the End” and it’s that these kids are close friends united by their strange quirks, and they don’t readily fit in with everyone else.
Like the young couple envying the frat boys next door in “Neighbors” or the two best friends looking to live out one wild night in “Superbad,” the trio of “Good Boys” want to be accepted by their peers, and to be seen as cool as the cool kids. What’s different about this movie is that there is a sliver of reality reckoning with the perils of growing up and, potentially, growing apart.
So while parents may squirm over the scenes where the kids are in physical danger, and a number of us might instead gag at the boys playing with (ahem, used) sex toys, there’s likely something relatable and potentially hilarious — like not feeling like you fit in middle school — to inspire many viewers to share a good laugh. “Good Boys” is a snappy comedy that pokes fun at those painful pubescent years and, by the credits, grows up into a somewhat mature comedy about friendship.