Martin Izzard on how Good Boys is challening cinema’s toxic masculinity…
August is a month in which Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw was momentarily the biggest movie in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie while having very limited exposure to the Fast & Furious films, because it embraced its ridiculousness with a tongue very much planted in cheek. I thought The Rock and Jason Statham were in on the joke and that the presentations of masculinity in Hobbs & Shaw were caricatures of what we expect them to be.
But then stories started swirling around after its release that its stars have a say over how their manliness is presented. Punches are being counted and representatives making sure their clients don’t lose fights on screen. What this unfortunately did was completely reinforce the toxic masculinity I initially hoped was almost being parodied by the movie.
So this led me to ask myself, ‘where are the films that are an antidote to this testosterone-fuelled action?’ If that was a question swirling around your brain, you’ll be pleased to know you didn’t have to wait long or look far. Just two weeks after Hobbs & Shaw’s release, in a quiet Saturday showing, I saw a movie that’s been described as Superbad with kids.
I didn’t go to see Good Boys thinking I was going to find something really refreshing and certifiably progressive but if we live in a world where The Rock can stop a helicopter taking off with his bare hands, then I guess anything’s possible.
Overall Good Boys is a pretty funny movie which great performances from its three pint-sized tween protagonists played by Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon. But what struck me most about it wasn’t the outlandish storyline or the fact that it’s essentially 90 minutes of children swearing. It was the movie’s presentation of male characters who respect women, aren’t afraid to show their emotions and talk more than once about consent.
Superbad is something of a predecessor to this movie – and that had a pretty lasting impact. It was after all a big springboard for the careers of several people who are now huge A-list stars and has jokes that are still referenced in cultural conversations. But in the 12 years since its release, it hasn’t aged very well. It’s essentially about two teenagers trying to get alcohol in order to help get a girl drunk and have sex. There’s nothing much more to it.
This is in itself a representation of something linked to toxic masculinity. There are conversations all the way through Superbad that reinforce the idea that the most important thing you can do when young and male, is have sex and be completely emotionless about doing so.
Hold that up next to Good Boys and the contrast is all too apparent. Here’s a movie where the main characters stand up to people about drug use, attack a group of frat boys who have long been the archetype of the american lad-culture and talk openly about the need to get a girls consent to kiss her. And the most important thing is that they aren’t at any point portrayed as the losers who aren’t worth anything because of those things.
One of the things I really connected with in Good Boys is Keith L. Williams’ arc as Lucas, a character whose parents are about to go through a divorce. It’s something he’s clearly upset about and he initially refuses to talk to his friends or show his emotions about what’s happening.
But what’s great here is that it doesn’t become the character’s entire arc where he has to have a big epiphany in which he realises he’s allowed to talk about his feelings. As someone who went through a parental divorce at a fairly similar age, I remember feeling as though I couldn’t talk to anyone – especially other boys; something which did manifest itself as in a really toxic way. But in Good Boys, Lucas quickly comes to the conclusion that he can talk to his friends and they’re really supportive when he starts to show his emotions.
The idea of consent and respecting women is the other big thing I like about Good Boys’ script. And okay, it’s initially presented as a bit of a joke but the message is loud and clear and comes from characters who really believe in what they’re saying.
The idea goes further than the three main characters’ dialogue. In a scene where the boys are trying to escape a frat house, a male college students comes out of a door excitedly exclaiming that “she dropped the charges.” He’s then immediately hit in the groin in a really poignant karma-driven moment masquerading as a joke.
The conversation in Hollywood around consent and what’s considered sexual misconduct is ongoing and is a really important one to have. And while it is happening, it’s one that’s mostly happening off screen. So to have it happen inside an R-rated comedy, a genre usually reserved for sex jokes and inventive swearing feels important.
Good Boys almost feels a bit more like a correction of some of the things that happen in Superbad rather than a direct descendant. It gives us male characters who want to kiss a girl because it’s the first step to marriage, not getting her into bed. They feel as though drug use destroys communities and shout the line ‘never call a woman a skank’ in complete earnestness.
And these characters are a reflection of so many more people throughout this movie including writers Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, also the movie’s director and I’m hoping that progressive thought about male characters is going to become more common. This is a film about three tweens getting up to mischief but it represents something much more than the adolescent humor of Superbad or the toxicity that underlines something like Hobbs & Shaw.
If this is a sign of things to come then I’m hopeful for what could be next. Imagine a world in which one of the mountain-sized men in the next Fast & Furious movie could take a punch without feeling as though their masculinity is being challenged.
Martin Izzard is a film enthusiast, Netflix worshipper and Disney fanatic and writes about the impact film and TV has on us and on our culture. He can be found on Twitter as @Martin_Izzard and at www.talkaboutmovies.co.uk.