GOOD BOYS: 4 STARS
Raunchy yet innocent. Naïve but coarse. Whichever you want to say it, “Good Boys” is a “Superbad” riff on one of life’s rites of passage. Starring Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon, none of whom are old enough to buy a ticket to see their own movie, it’s an R-rated but sweet film that has more going for it than the novelty of foul-mouthed preteens.
It all begins with a kiss. Or at last the promise of a kiss. Sixth-grader Max (Tremblay) has been invited to his first kissing party, where he has plan to plant one on his crush Brixlee (Millie Davis). “Tonight is our first middle school party. There’s going to be girls there. You know what that means?”
Trouble is, he’s never actually spoken to her or kissed a girl. His pals Lucas (Williams) and Thor (Noon), the Beanbag Boys, can’t offer any practical advice in that regard but are game to help their friend get some smooching experience. “We need to see real people kissing. That’s the only way we’ll learn what we’re doing!”
Googling porn doesn’t illuminate anything. “They didn’t even kiss!” “Not on the mouth, anyway!” They use Max’s dad’s (Will Forte) drone to try and spy on the girls next door (Midori Frances and Molly Gordon) but they catch on before the boys learn anything useful. Desperate for information the hormonal boys hit the road—literally, dodging traffic on a bustling six lane highway—that sees them encounter a sex doll they assume is a CPR practice dummy, vitamins that are actually MDMD and a frat house filled with bros. “You let us run around with drugs, fight with frat guys, and lock a cop in a convenient store with what I now suspect is a dildo,” Lucas says to Max.
“Good Boys” is best summed up by its rough ‘n ready Red Band trailer. The kids swear, a lot—Art Linklater would be shocked by the potty mouths on these darned kids—and find themselves in adult situations that often veer over into slapstick, and yet, there’s a real sweetness to the proceedings. They are at that very specific time in life between childhood and adolescence, just on the cusp of not wanting to put away childish things but speeding toward a hormonal future they don’t quite yet understand. That leads to very funny misunderstandings and an escalating series of events.
At its raunchy little heart, however, “Good Boys” is about growing up and growing apart. The Beanbag Boys may think they’ll be friends forever, but as the girls next door explain, they’re probably really only friends because they live close together, have parents who are friends and are in the same class. It’s a bittersweet realization in a movie that succeeds because of the chemistry between the three leads.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT: 4 STARS
The latest movie to mine the legacy of classic rock comes as a tribute to Bruce Springsteen. Based on a memoir by Sarfraz Manzoor, “Blinded by the Light,” joins “Rocketman,” “Yesterday” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in dramatizing the power of music to change lives.
Viveik Kalra plays the British Pakistani Javed a.k.a. Jay, a 16-year-old aspiring writer with dreams of getting away from Luton, a town he describes as “a four letter word,” where he is an outsider, tormented by skinheads, and his strict father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir). “You can choose to be a doctor or a lawyer or an estate agent,” his father says, “so don’t say I don’t give you any freedom.”
Things improve when he heads out to a local sixth form college. There he meets a teacher (Hayley Atwell) who tells him, “Stop doubting, keep writing,” the politically aware anarchist Eliza (Nell Williams) and best friend Roops (Aaron Phagura). When Roops hands over cassettes of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and "Born in the USA” with the words, “Bruce is the direct line to all that is true in this s****y world,” it’s as if Jay has been struck by lightning. “It’s like Bruce knows everything I’ve ever felt, everything I’ve ever wanted," he says.
As his obsession grows he begins dressing like his hero, speaking in Bruce quotes and papering his walls with Springsteen posters. His family thinks he’s gone bonkers. “Do you think this man sings for people like us,” asks his father, but the connection between Springsteen’s lyrics of working-class life and Jay’s existence are too powerful to ignore.
Directed by “Bend It Like Beckham's” Gurinder Chadha, “Blinded by the Light” is a coming of age story fueled by the invigorating power of music to change lives. Springsteen’s songs are specific in their American roots but universal in meaning. When Jay, sitting on the other side of the Atlantic, frustrated and unhappy, hears Bruce sing, “Man I’m just tired and bored with myself,” it hits home. It’s the epiphany moment when he realizes others feel the way he does. Call it “The Tao of Bruce” if you like, but the lyrics, set against the bleak backdrop of Thatcher’s England and the rise of the National Front, take on a meaning that resonates with Jay. It borders on corny and is earnest in the extreme but the earnestness is the movie’s strength, celebrating the virtues of the best of human values. “Bruce sings about not letting the hardness of the world stop you from letting the best of you slip away,” says Jays, with an acolyte’s devotion.
“Blinded by the Light” is a crowd-pleasing confection, sentimental and predictable, but bound together with the giddy feeling of first hearing music that speaks to you.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE: 3 STARS
Based on Maria Semple’s 2012 bestseller, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” is a mystery-comedy that explores motherhood and mental illness.
Cate Blanchett plays the title character, an agoraphobic architect, once heralded as a genius, now a hermit who hasn’t designed a building in decades. Described as one of architecture’s “true enigmas,” she hates travelling, complains that people are rude and yammer too much, can’t sleep—“Anxiety causes insomnia,” she claims, “and insomnia causes anxiety.”—rarely leaves the house and has poured all her prescription drugs into one jar. “The colours and shapes are amazing together,” she says.
The other moms in the area, next door neighbour Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and “all her flying monkeys,” don’t like her and Bernadette makes no effort to build bridges with them. “I’m not good when exposed to people.”
The only bright spots in her life are husband Elgin (Billy Crudup), 15-year-old daughter Bee (Emma Nelson) and her virtual, online assistant. A series of unrelated but catastrophic events, including a mini-mud slide, an identity theft ring and an intervention, prompt Bernadette to disappear without a trace, leaving Bee and Elgin to figure out where she went.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is more story driven than director Richard Linklater’s recent, more slice-of-life films. In movies like “Everybody Wants Some!!” he excelled in crafting interesting situations for his characters to inhabit. Here the details aren’t so much focussed on the location or building atmosphere, but in creating a layered and compelling central character.
Blanchett applies a light touch here, playing up the funny moments, but still digging in when it comes time to deal with the “formality of life.” It’s a lovely performance in a film that rambles somewhat, but ultimately finds touching moments in the story of a woman who had to get lost to find herself.
MINE 9: 3 STARS
“Mine 9” opens with a false alarm involving dangerous levels of methane at an Appalachian coal mine. The miners, rough-hewn workers who have spent their lives underground, debate whether or not to report the incident. Team boss Zeke (Terry Serpico) argues they have to let the bosses know what’s happening. The others point out that if the mine gets shut down, so do their pay cheques. It’s a startling beginning to a bare-bones story of survival and economics.
The action picks up again on 18-year-old Ryan’s (Drew Starkey) first day in the mine. His girlfriend doesn’t want him to go into the mine—“I don’t have time to sit in this town and wait for you.”—but he nonetheless follows in the footsteps of his miner father Kenny (Mark Ashworth) and Uncle Zeke into the depths, unaware of the threat of methane flare-ups.
Sure enough, a gas explosion collapses a section of the mine, trapping the nine-man crew. In cramped quarters, with little air and even less support from ground level, the men fight to survive.
“Mine 9” is grim stuff. Director Eddie “Claustrophobia” Mensore does an effective job of recreating the inhospitable conditions facing the men, showcasing the West Virginian mine’s tight spots and low ceilings to produce a truly uncomfortable sense of unease in the viewer. It is harrowing stuff.
He’s less successful in presenting fully rounded characters. Zeke and crew are crusty, tough-as-nails clichés with few defining personalities outside of the basic character tropes grit, alcoholism or stoicism. Still, as roughly sketched as the men are, it’s impossible not to be drawn into the severity of the situation.
“Mine 9” makes the most of its low-budget, relying on primal fears over big special effects to generate a sense of unease. At a quick 83 minutes, 10 of which are eaten up by credits and testimonials from real miners, it blends suspense with commentary on the dangerous environments miners face every day.