Seen at SXSW: Superbad Meets the Sandlot in Good Boys

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I had forgotten how much twelve year old boys curse. But Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys, an ode to the complexity of middle school friendships reminded me – in no small measure. In it, three sixth graders desperate to hide a mistake so they can go to their first kissing party cut school and go on an adventure. Along the way, we see tests to their friendship that are at once ridiculous…and wholly plausible. And by the end, they’ve cultivated a bond that feels wholly authentic to the age portrayed: that time when you first start to make friends that aren’t just, as the film says, because you live near each other or because your parents are friends.

There is a danger with movies like this, particularly when written by adults who have also created for adults, to make the beats of the story too adult. But what is to be loved about Good Boys is that the central characters are allowed to be, as the title would imply, boys. They get money for their quest by selling Ascension cards. They talk about drinking in increments of “sips.” THEY CAN’T OPEN CHILD-PROOF CAPS. And incredibly, the messaging about bullying and consent – welcomed by the crowd, if the applause during those scenes was any indication – are both unequivocal and genuinely funny.

The film and its premise rest solidly on the not-yet-broad shoulders on its three child leads: Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon, and Keith L. Williams. The movie requires them to be believably childlike, but also aware enough to manage the emotional scenes that pop up along the way. I am pleased to report that they nailed it. The trio carry the movie effortlessly, even in the raunchier or more mature moments. Following the premiere, Tremblay joked about being “shocked and appalled” about “what Seth and Evan told [him] would be a PG movie for kids!” When asked if they had read the script with their parents, Noon said simply “I did not,” while Williams said of reading it with my mom, “[she] just told me to pray on it and it would be fine.”

Prior festival films like last year’s Blockers and this year’s Booksmart have continued to shine a light on the coming-of-age that happens in high school, following in the long tradition of these types of movies. But I’m not too old to remember the parts of that journey that happened in middle school, and I’m so happy to be seeing that part of the experience on film- notably with Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, and now with Good Boys. It’s a great reminder of awkward moments with parents, that fervent urge to be someone you’re supposed to be, and the sweet and innocent comfort of finding your place with your friends.

Good Boys will head to theaters nationwide on August 16, 2019.

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