Coming-of-age films, especially those about transitioning from the goldfish bowl of high school to the unchecked freedom of college, are a genre unto themselves. Some of the best, such as Richard Linklater’s “Dazed and Confused” and James Pondsolt’s “The Spectacular Now,” capture the bittersweet evolution of young life, frozen in a moment of time. Chris McCoy’s “Good Kids,” examines this specific point of change by following the misadventures a group of straight-and-narrow teens who decide to cram four years worth of partying, sex and drugs into one summer before heading off to college.
The credits open with an introduction to our protagonists as kids, who we immediately know are misfits as they fill out their college applications in elementary school, instead of getting into misadventures with the other neighbourhood kids. Fast forward a decade or so to Andy (Nicholas Braun), Nora (Zoey Deutch), Spice (Israel Broussard) and “The Lion” (Mateo Arias) killing time at the beginning of summer in their small town before college begins. The quartet, egged on by Andy and emboldened by the fact they have their college acceptances locked down, decide to let loose and indulge for the first time in all the high school vices they eschewed in favor of academics. What follows is a trite and predictable “behaving badly” narrative, consisting primarily of hijinks involving sex, drugs, and a banal love rectangle, leading to a conventional conflict and tidy resolution.
The four main characters are decently portrayed throughout the film. Braun acquits himself adequately to the role Andy, and most of the film’s antics revolve around this character, in particular his unexpected summer job as a gigolo/tennis instructor and his online relationship with a girl from India, whom his friends think is a catfish. Andy’s shenanigans are mildly amusing at best, and include a montage showing how he serves his “tennis” clients, an unexpected nude escape, and subsequent streaking charge. The best gag involves yogurt, and it will make any woman who’s had a UTI clap their hands with vindictive glee. For the most part however, the gang comes off as “American Pie” lite. The romance is also something left to be desired. Andy’s supposedly long simmering attraction to Nora comes out of nowhere, and it feels rather like a plot point that’s been added because it’s an expected trope of the genre, rather than organically weaved into the story. The worn out shtick of “guy is jealous of female friend’s new relationship, tears down and belittles girl” leaves a sour taste, but thankfully Nora calls Andy out on his behavior.
It doesn’t help that Andy and Nora are given, the pardon the pun, the lion’s share of character development. Lion and Spice barely exist as two dimensional characters, with the former becoming a frankly insulting mixture of Indian and stoner stereotypes, while the latter disappears for a long stretches at a time (perhaps because he is the only one of the group who doesn’t go completely off the rails) before reappearing in the final quarter of the film to get his sweet, sweet “release.” Out of the quartet of main actors Deutch as Nora is the standout, but the film constantly undermines her character with cheap shout-outs as to how “hot” she became and gross comments about her breasts. Deutch’s role is a step up from “Dirty Grandpa,” but she did much more with less in “Everybody Wants Some!!” Meanwhile, Ashley Judd and Academy Award nominee Demian Bichir star in thankless roles, as a horny cougar and Andy’s jerk boss and fellow gigolo, respectively.
“Good Kids” is a passible feature film debut from Chris McCoy, having only previously directed the short, “The Bicycle.” The film’s biggest problem lies in the writing. The screenplay is unevenly paced and relies much too heavily on tired teen movie tropes rather than attempting to tell a genuine story. McCoy is good at creating strong emotional moments, as evidenced in his previous short, but he tends to fall back on conventional and tired themes to move the story along. The film’s cinematography, courtesy of Jimmy Lindsey (“Limitless,” “Revolution”) is crisp, clear, and utilitarian, featuring beautiful shots of a shore town, easily capturing the beauty of summer. The fight sequence between “The Lion” and the cabal of cuckolds is a bit dodgy, but could have been a lot worse.
For all of its foibles, “Good Kids” does manage to hit a few poignant emotional beats. A scene where a baked Andy accidentally stumbles into the wrong house while searching for his “tennis” client leads to having a heart-to-heart with one of his bro-y peers, Conch (Dayo Okeniyi). Conch opens Andy’s eyes to the reality that the quartet were never really outcasts, but rather they isolated themselves from the other kids. It’s one of the few interesting scenes in the film, addressing a grey area as to whether those who view themselves as misfits are actually outsiders, or whether they sub-consciously exclude themselves out of self-preservation. The film’s final scene with Andy and Nora saying their goodbyes is also surprisingly poignant, evoking a denouement of new lost chances and endings, with the promise of new beginnings on the horizon.
Overall, “Good Kids“ is an average, uneven, coming-of-age flick with decent performances, serving as a harmless example of the joy of having one last (or rather first) hurrah before entering the next phase of life. [C]