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In mid-1970s Savannah, two bright but rebellious boys, Francis Doyle and Tim Sullivan, fight boredom, hormones and harsh teachers as they struggle to find something meaningful beyond the walls of their parish school. Francis, an exceptional artist whose imaginative forays into a fictional universe of good and evil fill his notebooks with comic-book imagery, creates a netherworld of superhero alter egos for the two boys. When the ultra-strict Sister Assumpta seizes their artwork one day, the boys embark upon an obsessed trail of revenge that ultimately changes their lives. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
I came across this indie gem one day at my local Blockbuster. I looked at it and it seemed like it would be an o.k. way to kill two hours. There was really nothing else in the videostore, so I decided to rent it. Boy, am I glad I did. I really appreciated the movie and related to it, after all I do go to a Catholic High School. 'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys' is actually a great coming-of-age tale set in the Catholic school setting of the 1970s. Just by reading the title I thought it was about pedophile Catholic priests or something, but it's really about two friends who are the altar boys at their church/school and their adventures as they discover what's life is all about... or their interpretation of it.
The two boys in 'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys' are Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch - The Girl Next Door, The Emperor's Club) and Michael Sullivan (Kieran Culkin - Igby Goes Down, Home Alone). They are two fifteen year old rebels that have a passion for comics and writing and illustrating their own. They despise their tough-as-nails and strict one-legged Catholic nun school teacher, Sister Assumpta (played by Two Time Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster - The Accused, The Silence of the Lambs). The two boys make themselves their own creative superheroes in their comic and have Sister Assumpta be the evil motorcycle peddling nun from hell that the two superheroes battle, along with the boys' other two friends who provide superheroes for their comic too. The film switches from real-life to the creative comic book setting during conflicts in the story, and I think that it's done very stylish and neat. The two boys rebel against their teacher and misbehave in front of her constantly, especially Michael (Culkin) who drives her absolutely nuts. The boys rebel by doing other things that the nun doesn't know about like, drink, smoke pot and steal and damage church property. The film contains some funny moments, and as the story unfolds Francis (Hirsch) becomes interested in the girl who lives next door to him Margie (Jena Malone - Saved!, Cold Mountain), a cool, nice, beautiful and independent girl with a deep and dark secret that challenges Francis. I won't give it away though.
There are many great aspects to this film. Most notably is the acting. Emile Hirsch is nothing short of incredible as the genuine misfit Francis and Jena Malone is equally as good as the sweet yet complex Margie. Jodie Foster is hysterical and always a pleasure to watch as the uptight Catholic school nun and 'Law & Order: Criminal Intent's' Vincent D'Onofrio has a somewhat small role as an interesting Catholic school priest who smokes like a chimney. The stand-out of the film however is Kieran Culkin. He is definitely the most talented performer in his family, and he gives an astounding performance as Michael Sullivan that puts him on the top of the list of the best child actors working in Hollywood currently. Culkin gave an equally amazing performance in Burr Steer's neurotic and darkly hilarious film debut 'Igby Goes Down' which was released the same year as 'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys'. Peter Care does a fabulous job with this, his feature film debut, and the valley's Todd MacFarlane (creator of Spawn) provides the comic book illustration for the animated scenes.
All in all this is a great coming-of-age movie, with a lot of heart and intelligence. It has some flaws like dragging a little towards the beginning, being a little unclear towards the end and having some freaky and unnecessary ghost sequence towards the middle of the film. I'd recommend this to anyone who attends Catholic High School because it is a great movie but it's also something you could relate to. Next time you are at the videostore and can't find anything to watch, maybe pick up 'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys'. Chances are you won't regret it. Grade: B+
MADE MY TOP 300 LIST AT #245
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