The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Review Date:
Director: Peter Care
Writer: Jeff Stockwell, Michael Petroni
Producers: Jodie Foster, Meg LeFauve, Jay Shapiro
Emile Hirsch
Kieran Culkin
Jena Malone
A coming of age story featuring a group of Catholic school altar boys, specifically one dude who enjoys messing around with his friends, drawing comic books and is sweet on a cute girl from his class. Misadventures, experimentation and rambunctiousness ensues.
Not every quality picture needs to have an elaborate story, major twists and turns or some kind of funky ending that will have you re-examining everything that came before it. Some movies just come into our lives, present us with decent human drama, some nostalgic bits, funny moments, a smidgen of emotion, ups, downs and ultimately, some kind of greater understanding and appreciation of life, love and the world around us. Okay, so maybe this flick isn’t really gonna change your life, but it’s a good-hearted tale that isn’t afraid to tread over “touchy” subjects or give us the real goods as per many of our childhoods. As we all know by now, it wasn’t just popcorn and bubble-gum growing up, there were plenty of shit moments as well, and the two lead kids in this film certainly evoke the good and the bad equally. If you haven’t heard about this film, it’s to note that it’s mostly “live action” but there’s about 10% of it that is presented in animation format (Todd McFarlane, baby!) You see, one of the lead kids is a cartoonist at heart, and as his life passes through turmoil, so do his imaginary drawn adventures, all of which give us even greater insight into the lives of the boy and everyone around him. It’s actually quite ingenious, handled very competently and not just a gimmicky thing.

There are a lot of “coming of age” movies that twinkle our emotions because they manage to connect us to the affection that we still hold for the days of old. Films like STAND BY ME or THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, for example. The events in this film, the experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex, the rampant imaginations, the white lies, the big secrets, the over-emphasis on the smaller issues…all connect because many of us have gone through it all as well. One of the film’s greater qualities is its ability to capture the carefree nature of the boys and the bond of their friendship. At that age, you really do believe that your teachers are your biggest enemies in the world and that your buddies will be your goombahs for life. The film feels very authentic and sincere in all of its forms, with the dialogue, the chemistry between all of the characters and the story itself feeling real, funny and dramatic at the same time (always a difficult task). Is it original? Not really. We’ve seen and heard most of this before, in fact, I think Jena Malone has been playing this very same character in her last few movies (admittedly, she does play her very well though). But the film’s animation angle is very unique, the actors are all very precise, especially Kieran Culkin who clearly possesses a deeper talent, and even Vincent D’Onofrio comes through as the priest who doesn’t seem to know what the heck he’s doing. Emile Hirsh is also very good as the lead youngster, especially when he gives that final speech…heart-wrenching…great job!

Unfortunately, the film does spend a little too much time on a subplot concerning a cougar, Jodie Foster is just “okay” as the peg-legged nun (although all of the adult characters seem to have purposely been written one-dimensionally from the kids’ point of view), the whole William Blake connection seemed a little far-fetched for kids their age and there weren’t really any memorable sequences (now that I think back, I can’t remember a one, really). But overall, it still managed to capture me with its heart in the right place and its youthful characters, all of which were portrayed brilliantly. In tandem with its complementary animation sequences, it made for a solid coming-of-age story.

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian