I'll be the first to admit it: hearing little kids swear is pretty funny. But the juxtaposition between naughty words and cherubic faces will only get you so far. Luckily the new comedy "Good Boys" has more to offer than the sight of pint-size star Jacob Tremblay dropping F-bombs, and wraps its hijinks around a core of genuine sweetness.
Tremblay plays Max, one-third of "The Beanbag Boys," a title he shares with his best buds Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon). The tween trio do everything together, and when they land an invitation to their first "kissing party" there's a lot riding on the impression they hope to make there. Especially for Max, who wants nothing more than to finally get the attention of his crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis).
In an effort to pick up some tips, the boys borrow Max's dad's (Will Forte) drone to spy on their more experienced teenage neighbor and her friend (Molly Gordon and Midori Francis). But the plan goes sideways and the drone is destroyed, forcing Max, Lucas, and Thor to undertake an epic cross-town quest to replace it before Max's dad returns home from his business trip. Along the way there's frat house drug deals, death-defying sprints across the highway, and annoyingly knowledgeable kid sisters. It's an awful lot to handle for middle schoolers already navigating the hormone-addled world of 6th grade.
"Good Boys" is set in that nebulous period of childhood when once inseparable friends start developing their own distinct interests outside the group, and youthful friendships transition to the more complicated variety that come with the onset of adolescence.
Whether consciously or not, Max and his friends are feeling as much anxiety over their evolving friendship as they are about their discovery of the opposite sex. The boys are just beginning to grasp the idea that friendships change over time, a concept which gives director Gene Stupnitsky and his writing partner Lee Eisenberg ("Bad Teacher") a lot of fruitful thematic terrain to explore.
The script gets a lot of mileage out of the boys' general cluelessness about the mysterious, grownup world that exists just beyond their realm of comprehension. As much as they may pretend to know what they're talking about, they have fundamental misunderstanding of sex and all that goes with it. After all, this is still a group of kids whose most fearsome opponent remains the child-proof top on a bottle of vitamins.
The chemistry between the three young actors is always a joy to watch. All three leads have their moments to shine as each of the boys get arcs of their own. Thor worries that his excitement to join the school musical will cost him a place amongst the cool crowd, and Lucas is grappling with the news that his parents (Retta and Lil RelHowery) are getting a divorce.
Tremblay continues to demonstrate his versatility as a performer; even for such a young actor, there's no question he's going to have a career for years to come. But as good as he is, the film's true breakout star is Keith L. Williams, who turns the rule-abiding Lucas into the film's funniest character -- the kid is a master of comedic timing and delivery.
For all the filthy situations the Bean Bag Boys find themselves in, the film makes it clear these are good kids at heart. Deftly weaving in ideas about consent and bullying in among the foul-mouthed adventures, the script doesn't have to strain too hard to work in a few genuine messages. And while the humor and pacing isn't always consistent, the film's still funny as hell.
With plenty of good-natured fun and charming performances, "Good Boys" counters all its raunchiness with an inherent sweetness that -- beyond the gross-out jokes -- manages to say something significant about childhood friendships and the growth that's required to make them last.
Even when life leads us on diverging, unpredictable paths, there remains a special, one-of-a-kind quality to the friendships we have when we're kids. As Richard Dreyfuss says in the final lines of the coming-of-age classic "Stand By Me": "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"