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The kids are all right - ‘Good Boys’

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I was always going to like “Good Boys.”

Few comedic conventions sit as squarely in my wheelhouse as children cursing. What can I say? There will always be a part of me that remains eternally 13, just as there will always be movies that speak to that part of me. Much of the appeal is the juxtaposition against the relative innocence of childhood, of course, but I wasn’t prepared for how genuinely that innocence was going to be treated.

That sense of genuineness is what allows “Good Boys” to be something more than simply crass. There’s an underlying sweetness to it, one that focuses on the reality that no matter how much the world around them may change, there will always be certain things about being 12 years old that never will.

Max (Jacob Tremblay, “The Predator”) is a young man on the verge of teenagerhood, having just entered the sixth grade. He’s starting to notice girls and is having his struggles dealing with that, but he’s got his two best friends to help him through. There’s Lucas (Keith L. Williams, TV’s “The Last Man on Earth”), an overly-earnest young man with a deep affection for rule-following, and Thor (Brady Noon, TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”), whose desperate desire to be cool is causing conflicting feelings with regards to his love of musical theatre.

Together, they make up the “Beanbag Boys,” an inseparable trio that promises to always have one another’s backs as they navigate the tricky waters of adolescence.

It all starts to change when they attract the notice of some of the cooler kids. Their leader is the enigmatic Soren (Izaac Wang, TV’s “Teachers”), a youngster whose feats of coolness are legendary. Soren is having a party – and he wants Max to come, though he’s less interested in the other two. Still, Max wrangles some invites for his boys. But then – the bombshell.

It’s a kissing party.

What follows is a descent into panic as the boys face the mounting terror of going to a kissing party and not knowing how to kiss. A series of poor choices lead the boys to use a drone belonging to Max’s dad (Will Forte, “Booksmart”) to try and spy on next-door neighbor Hannah (Molly Gordon, “Booksmart”) and her friend Lily (Midori Francis, “Ocean’s Eight”), only to lose the drone and wind up with drugs instead. From there, the day only gets crazier as the boys have to find their way out of each new problem while ALSO trying to learn how to kiss; Max in particular is willing to do anything for the chance to kiss his crush Brixlee (Millie Davis, TV’s “Esme & Roy”).

There are a lot of obstacles standing in their way – some out of their control, others very much of their own making – but they’ve got each other, and for kids of a certain age, that can be enough.

“Good Boys” features a lot of foul language flowing forth from the mouths of babes. I won’t apologize for how funny I will almost certainly always find that to be. But that’s far from everything that this movie has to offer.

This is an honest look at the nature of young friendship. The friends you have when you’re 12 can feel like the only friends you’ll ever have. You’re on a constant voyage of discovery together, but you also learn different things at different times, leaving you worldly in some areas and naïve in others. Everything is weird and confusing and vaguely sticky, but you’ve got your friends. That spirit is very much conveyed throughout, thanks to director Gene Stupnitsky, who also co-wrote the script alongside Lee Eisenberg.

That never-setting sunniness is what really elevates the film. The story being told is outsized and crazy, but in ways that feel like the sorts of exaggerated feelings kids that age feel about their adventures; there’s even a scene in which one of the boys recounts their journey thus far to his parents, only to have them dismiss it as mere imaginative embellishment.

And of course, it’s wonderfully funny. Yes, it’s plenty crude – and that stuff is VERY funny – with some legitimately hilarious sequences (the frat-house scene is my favorite, but that’s all I’ll say), but there’s a lot of heart and a surprising degree of sentimentality here as well. The tendency is to compare this to something like “Superbad;” it’s an imperfect match, but it’s not that far off, either.

The performances are tremendous. I’ve written multiple times about the young actor renaissance we’re currently seeing in Hollywood; this movie is a direct beneficiary of that. Jacob Tremblay is one of the best young actors out there, full stop; his talent far outstrips his experience. While all three boys are co-leads, he’s first among them and handles it effortlessly. His co-stars aren’t far behind, either; Williams might be the funniest of the bunch as the most good of the good boys and the trio’s moral center, while Noon’s battle against his inner musical theatre nerd to try to become a cool kid is funny because of its familiarity as much as anything. Together, they are a consistent delight.

The supporting cast is rock-solid. Gordon and Francis are great. Forte dads it up with glee. Lil Rel Howery and Retta are delightful as Lucas’s parents. Sam Richardson and Stephen Merchant show up for single scenes that they absolutely crush. The list goes on.

“Good Boys” might not be for everyone. But if you’re like me, someone who still remembers what it was like to be a confused 12-year-old idiot driven by hormones and peer approval, you’re going to see a lot of yourself on the screen.

And you will laugh.

[4 out of 5]

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