The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

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Half the joy of being a kid is spinning tall tales. Nuns are nowhere near as mean as Jodie Foster’s one-legged Assumpta but what fun are they if they did have two legs and didn’t ride around on motor scooters? Four Catholic schoolboys take their coming-of-age woes to the pages of their homemade comic book. It’s there that these altar boys become the Atomic Trinity, a superhero foursome making their way to the Pearl of Wisdom while duking it out with Assumpta’s evil bike gang. The perpetually bored Tim (Kieren Culkin) uses William Blake to bring his friend Francis (Emile Hirsch) and the troubled Margie (Jena Malone) together. And just as Francis begins to cop a feel, a very dirty secret fascinatingly thrusts Margie into the film’s animated comic-book world. More so than anything else, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys feeds on the imagination of children and relishes the joy (not to mention escape) they find in creation. Director Peter Care significantly underplays the film’s religious angle, so much so that sin becomes less a reaction against God than a natural part of adolescence. Though Assumpta and Father Casey (Vincent D’Onofrio) remain curiously distant from the film’s ebb and flow, Assumpta’s disgust for everything ungodly is delicately contrasted with Casey’s silent acknowledgement that boys will be boys. When Tim and Francis prepare to knock down a telephone pole, Care evocatively suggests a kind of reverse crucifixion when the pole casts a cross-like shadow on the ground. Sure, the film seems frequently undermined by the pervasive smell of death yet Care refuses to martyr his altar boys because, in the end, no one is dying for anyone else’s sins but their own. Despite a clever reference to Farah Fawcett Majors, Care’s evocation of youth transcends time. The notion that children can shed their mortal flesh (in their imaginations and dreams) is fantastically suggested via the film’s many animated sequences. Faith and the possibility of mortal transcendence is particularly potent in these escape-from-reality scenarios though the director spends equal time authenticating the simple joys and brutal horrors of youth with walks through abandoned homes, bashful evocations of first-kisses and awkward, ethereal declarations of love.

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Distributor
THINKFilm
Runtime
105 min
Rating
R
Year
2002
Director
Peter Care
Screenwriter
Michael Petroni, Jeff Stockwell
Cast
Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone, Jodie Foster, Vincent D'Onofrio, Emile Hirsch, Jake Richardson, Tyler Long, Melissa Suzanne McBride