GREG'S GRADE: A-
If "Booksmart," the excellent coming-of-age comedy released earlier this year, was the "female Superbad," the equally funny "Good Boys" takes the concept to middle school.
As "Stranger Things" and "It" have shown recently, the ultra-awkward tween years are fertile ground for storytelling, and "Good Boys" earns big laughs by contrasting the innocence of youth with the more profane world of teenagers and adults.
From the writing team of Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg ("The Office," "Bad Teacher"), with Stupnitsky making his feature directorial debut, the movie follows the travails of Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon), 12-year-old best friends who refer to themselves as the "Beanbag Boys." (Why? Because they have beanbags, of course.)
Inseparable since kindergarten, the trio is starting to drift apart, unknowingly, as they navigate the complex social politics of middle school and their interests diverge. Max has a major crush on classmate Brixlee (Millie Davis); Lucas, who just learned his parents (Lil Rel Howery, Retta) are divorcing, wants to play nerdy games and is a stickler for rules of any kind; and Thor loves to sing above all else, even though he skips auditions for the school musical because the popular kids think it isn't cool.
Invited to his first "kissing party," Max, who insists on bringing Thor and Lucas with him, panics because he doesn't know how to kiss. Desperate to learn, he and his friends use his father's drone — which Max's dad (Will Forte, also one of the dads in "Booksmart") specifically forbade him from playing with — to spy on an older couple nearby. As you might expect, this bit of adolescent espionage doesn't quite go as planned, with teenagers Hannah (Molly Gordon, another who appeared in "Booksmart") and Lily (Midori Francis) ending up in possession of the drone and the boys unwittingly making off with the girls' drugs.
Max, Lucas and Thor skip school and find their friendship tested as they spend a wild day trying to get the drone back before Max's dad realizes it's gone and then get to the all-important party.
Stupnitsky and Eisenberg capture a crucial and confusing time in our lives with complete authenticity. It's a time when everything, especially going to the party your crush also plans to attend, is the Most Important Thing Ever; when small details adults barely even consider, such as a mall being 4 miles away, become colossal obstacles; and when the height of coolness is being able to take three sips of beer — four sips and you're a god.
The three leads aren't old enough to watch the movie they're in — and the R rating is well earned — but "Good Boys" is bursting with heart and good-natured sincerity. The title isn't the least bit ironic. There's no malice in anything Max, Lucas or Thor does; no one at their age is equipped emotionally to deal with the changes they're encountering in themselves and the world around them. Tremblay, Williams and Noon are terrific as the central trio, and it takes a confident director who knows exactly what he wants to get such performances out of actors this young. The scene-stealer is Williams, who consistently gets the biggest laughs.
If there's a criticism, it's only that Hannah and Lily become a bit cartoonish as they become more and more villainous. It's a minor point, though, as the focus is squarely on the title characters, an endearing trio that grounds and centers a movie that easily could have lost itself in its own vulgarity. "Good Boys" does the opposite, finding its heart amid raunchy humor and sight gags, and assuring us that being true to yourself and a good person is more important than being "cool" could ever be.
Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout — all involving tweens. 89 minutes.
Like Maki at the Movies on Facebook: www.facebook.com/MakiAtTheMovies.