When I spent $6.89 (plus tax) to see the new Seth Rogen-produced comedy Good Boys before noon on a Wednesday, I was expecting a light hearted, but vulgar film featuring a group of prepubescent tweens getting into the type of shenanigans only a helicopter parent wouldn’t find funny. Imagine my surprise when I found myself emotionally invested in the plot of three rising sixth graders, collectively known as the Bean Bag Boys (BBB), in the midst of a childhood existential crisis before they even have the emotional language to articulate what’s happening. These kids are growing up quickly, and afraid of what that means for the memories and people they have grown up with.
The lessons of Good Boys are familiar and relatable, even to someone moving into his late 20s, such as myself. Seth Rogan as the source of these lessons may be unexpected…but only if you haven’t been paying attention. He has spent the last few years quietly cementing his name as one of the greatest comedic writers in entertainment. Avoiding fat contracts for Netflix stand up comedy specials, unlike other comics such as Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, Rogen appears very comfortable moving in the space he finds himself… as he should. Like his buddy Jonah Hill, who starred in the quality Netflix mini-series Maniac with Oscar winner Emma Stone, Rogen is continually finding himself involved with notable creative works. Whether simply producing solid TV such as The Boys, or writing and directing works like Preacher and Future Man, Rogen’s resume as creator often goes unnoticed, due to his acting roles in some of the best comedies of the decade.
His filmography contains strong cult classics and hidden gems throughout. This year alone, Rogen has now delivered in some form in two of the best comedies. Producing and starring in the underappreciated romantic-comedy Longshot, as well as producing Good Boys, shows Rogen’s precise aim with telling unconventional but relatable stories. In other words, behind a bunch of dick jokes, sex toy mishaps, and straight up not okay behavior from middle schoolers, Good Boys surprises with a simple yet powerful emotional truth: time changes everyone. As the Bean Bag Boys struggle to come to terms with the fact that they no longer click as easily as they once did, we can all relate.
Whether through the lens of seeing the hilarious Keith L. Williams, who plays Lucas, deal with the pain and emotional response that comes with a parental divorce (though my fellow millennials are changing that), or understanding that two inseparable friends like Max (Jacob Tremblay) and Thor (Brady Noon) may no longer do everything together like they used to. Time and people change, something society often does a poor job of explaining outside corny representations. When the high school-aged neighbors Hannah and her friend Lily casually note that not all friendships survive the days of elementary and middle school, the first real emotional hit of the film is given to the audience. Sure, divorce sucks but that’s ~normal~. A friendship break-up hits differently. Unlike your parents’ divorce, a friendship break-up puts you directly into the drama. Is it your fault or not? It’s enough to drive you crazy.
Rogen’s production choice of Good Boys paid off. Overperforming at the box office, Rogen added another feather into his impressive storytelling dad cap. Good Boy does a lot with a little. In less than 90 minutes, an emotional storyline is weaved together through absurd and garish nonsense, and I’m all for it. As a teacher, I know for a fact these kids’ behavior was spot on. In some sense, they held back a bit, probably for good reason. Any worse and the film could easily have been NC-17 ala the classic Kids.
Using kids to portray complex emotional dealings is not new. The excellent Big Mouth on Netflix also handles crass topics with maturity that my students understand. If you think it’s weird that I watch the same adult-rated comedies that my students do, I agree. It is and yet that is the emotional landscape in which we find ourselves in this digital age. If showing high school kids getting fucked up on Dazed and Confused and Superbad was acceptable, Rogen towards rising middle schoolers is fucking hilarious.
It took me awhile to see the emotional points of Good Boys as relatable. In the moment I wished they had added another absurd sex doll joke instead. On a weekend trip with middle and high school friends who are no longer easily accessible to me, one admitted he had recently become engaged, but had not told us yet as to “not make a big deal” of anything. Emotional reactions hold no timeline. The spectrum of how they play out and when vary from person to person and are informed by cultural background and childhood upbringing.
It was fair for my friend to assume our very tight knit crew would be thrown off by a wedding, in the same way Thor was thrown off that Max wanted to hook up with girls instead of doing other Bean Bag Boy activities. It takes time and patience to accept that people change and move on. While the Bean Bag Boys maturely pull it off, the average middle schooler may hold that grudge through high school and eventually life. Even in the stark madness, Rogen does a good job of setting a feel good story that leaves the audience with a pleasurable summer viewing. Something he has been doing for well over a decade now.