Filmmakers have all but exhausted the narrative potential of coming-of-age stories concerning teen boys (and young men, and middle-aged men, and old men who should sure as hell know better). It's one of the reasons why films like last year's Blockers and this year's Booksmart have been so enthusiastically received: Audiences are tired of watching teenage boys get drunk and fumble their way through hook-ups.
Enter Good Boys, the new comedy from Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, which follows a trio of earnest 12-year-old boys as they navigate 6th grade politics, attend their first "kissing party," and embark on a risky mission to replace an expensive drone that belongs to one of their dads. If you'd told me this film was written by David Wain, I'd probably believe it – at least much more than "from the guys that brought you (checks notes)... Year One." Not to knock Stupnitsky and Eisenberg — who are better (and more rightfully) known for their work on The Office and the tragically short-lived HBO series Hello Ladies — but there is a very specific crass-meets-cute humor to Good Boys, which takes a very simple comedic concept and turns it into something surprisingly sweet.
Our boy Jacob Tremblay (aka The Book of Henry's Enchilada Number Two) leads the trio as Max, a sweet, dorky kid who's more curious about girls than his friends Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon). When we first meet Max he's fiddling with the character design for an online RPG, giving his female ogre a massive breast enhancement. He rigs the bedroom doorknob to the charging cord on his MacBook so he'll be alerted if someone tries to enter, which inevitably happens when his dad (Will Forte, making the most out of a supporting role as usual) bursts in. Even worse: Max's dad is thrilled about his son's sexual curiosity. Lucas is easily the most naive and morally upright of the three: He loves playing a Magic-esque RPG game with his friends and he's fond of their school's anti-bullying squad. Then there's Thor: With the voice of an absolute angel, Thor is on his way to becoming a high school theatre superstar, but he's too embarrassed to try out for their school's production of Rock of Ages (which their teacher has infused with his own experiences from his "time in Hollyweird").
The three pals are occupying that precious space between grade school and junior high – a time of transition and potential change, when teen identities are formed and friendships are quietly tested. Max is easily on his way to becoming one of the popular kids, so it's not surprising when the most beloved kid in their class – Atticus (because of course that's his name) – invites him to a kissing party. Max convinces Atticus to let him bring Lucas and Thor, and the three are on their way to social acceptance – but a run-in with two teenage girls threatens to ruin everything, sending the friends on a dangerous mission to replace the drone that belongs to Max's dad while evading the girls, who just want to take some damn ecstasy and go to a concert. The basic appeal of Good Boys is, of course, in watching these kids drop profanity and get into shenanigans beyond their age range. It's the sort of simple hook that could easily wear out its welcome 30 minutes in, but Stupnitsky and Eisenberg's script – aided by an insanely good young cast – is consistently engaging. As the title implies, these aren't bad kids trying to get into trouble; these are good boys who think drugs are bad and are still young enough to find internet porn completely terrifying. They're naive and endearingly earnest, which allows for some particularly great gags involving things like sex toys and beer.
It probably also helps to have a great supporting cast of adults, like Retta and Lil Rel Howery as Lucas' parents, who further complicate their son's predicament with an impending divorce. Punctuating the action with adult co-stars helps keep Good Boys moving along and prevents its schtick from ever tiring out. But through all of Tremblay's F-bombs and the hilarious sight-gags involving anal beads and a sex doll (a great sub-plot featuring Stephen Merchant), a heartfelt narrative emerges about growing up and potentially growing apart. These kids have never had to think about why they're friends, but suddenly their interests are diverging. It's such a relatable moment in time, and one that lends an additional layer of humor as the third act picks up with them a few weeks after the kissing party – which may as well be five years later.
Stupnitsky and Eisenberg's script (which the former directs) is also far more clever and enlightened than your usual male-centric coming-of-age comedies. There's a recurring bit about how crucial it is to get consent before kissing someone — it's not only wonderful, but feels incredibly casual in the context of the film. The representation is similarly casual, particularly with regards to Max's crush, Brixlee (Millie Davis); these kids just don't exist in a bigoted world, and perhaps that's a little precious, but it's appreciated given the mass appeal this film will undoubtedly have. Maybe I'm just a sucker for foul-mouthed children in adult situations, but Good Boys is easily right up there with Booksmart in terms of subverting the coming-of-age genre in ways that are both hilarious and sweet, with a story that's relatable and immensely accessible.