Williams, Tremblay and Noon: bad as they want to be.
August 15, 2019 6:05 AM EDT

Long before the rise of the #MeToo movement, modern moms had begun raising their sons to be respectful of women, to ask permission before touching and to generally check their sense of entitlement at the door. The era of the pint-size gentleman has–possibly–arrived. But even the most evolved moms and dads can’t teach their kids everything. The sweet-spirited comedy Good Boys is all about the things boys of a certain age just can’t figure out: How do you kiss a girl (after you’ve gained consent)? What are tampons really for? Are nymphomaniacs girls who like to set fires?

Max, Thor and Lucas (Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams) are three suburban sixth-graders who are fairly low on the social totem pole but don’t much care. These three–who call themselves the Bean Bag Boys–hang tight, mostly riding around on their bikes and playing Ascension. But their tween utopia is about to change. The local tough boys–who strut around, hilariously, in spiky-slick hair and sunglasses, like mini-greasers–challenge them to a beer-drinking contest. (The record so far is three sips.) Aspiring pop star Thor, afraid that drinking will hurt his singing career–he’s about to try out for the school musical–refuses, thus earning the humiliating nickname Sippy Cup. Sweet, nerdy Lucas is informed by his parents (played by Retta and Lil Rel Howery) that they’re splitting up; at the musical tryouts the next day, he mimes his way dejectedly through “Walkin’ on Sunshine.” And future excellent boyfriend Max has a crush on a schoolmate, a fetching skateboarder named Brixlee (Millie Davis); the tough kids have invited him to a kissing party, and she’s going to be there. The mechanics of kissing are a mystery to him, and when he panics, his posse comes to his rescue. One of their first steps is to search “porn” on the Internet, their quest momentarily derailed when they type “porb” instead.

Good Boys is filled with enjoyably dumb, innocent gags like that. When the trio finally do locate some good old-fashioned Internet porn, a corny skit involving a stepmom and her grown stepson, they’re so appalled they run screaming from the computer. The movie, directed by Gene Stupinsky and written by Stupinsky and Lee Eisenberg, spins on their clueless naivete, though these kids do drop the F bomb a lot.

That is, perhaps, their biggest outlet for rebellion: otherwise, they’re so earnest and well-intentioned that they might not even seem real. Aghast at the mere mention of drug use, they’re appalled when they learn that two older neighborhood teenagers (played by Molly Gordon and Midori Francis) have procured some MDMA to take at a concert.

Even so, they do get into trouble, mostly involving the loss of an expensive drone that Max has covertly borrowed from his father, for use in his smooch-technique research. There’s also a harrowing scene in which the three cross multiple lanes of freeway traffic. Kids, don’t try this at home.

But then, Good Boys isn’t for kids–it’s merely about them, and it captures the essence of being young and mystified and just too embarrassed to ask anyone about all the things you just don’t have a clue about. In its exploration of male guilelessness, it’s something of a middle-school version of the 2007 Superbad. (Seth Rogen is credited as a producer on both.) And mostly, with the exception of a tiresome, protracted gag involving a parental stash of sex toys, it’s more funny and charming than it is raunchy. If these boys are the men of the future, their parents have done something right.

This appears in the August 26, 2019 issue of TIME.

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