May 14, 2003

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

poster imageThis adaptation of Chris Fuhrman's posthumously published book The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys made me want to read the book, but it's also a successful movie in its own right. The story follows a couple of early-teen boys and a girl through the torture that is adolescence made even worse by the fact that they have to experience it along with the torture that is Catholic school. Intense friendships, youthful rebellion, first love, and the collision among them are spot-on here, and bring back memories of that time of my life, both horrible and ecstatic.

One of the coolest things about the movie is that it brings to life the comic book that the characters are drawing and writing in full-screen animation. This works really well to bring the characters' internal torture out on screen without having to make the real characters unrealistically melodramatic.

On the minus side, there was something a little off about the depiction of the 1970s that kept reminding me I was watching a movie. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it was.

But the thing that really bugged me is the death of a character late in the film. It's probably straight out of the book in which case it will bug me about the book too. Why do writers feel like somebody has to die for their characters to experience strong emotions? In this case in particular, I didn't feel like the death made any of the characters involved go through anything fundamentally worse than what they'd already had to face in the rest of the movie.

The DVD has a commentary from the director that we didn't view. There's some slightly extended scenes that weren't really worth the time. The obligatory featurette is worth watching if only to see the glee that Jodie Foster obviously feels at playing the evil and repressed Sister Assumpta, glee that never once came through during her performance which is exactly as it should be since Sister Assumpta takes no joy in anything. The cast interview segment is hilarious for the sections with Jena Malone sounding like a jaded serious actress at the ripe old age of 16. Somehow she says this stuff that you've heard a hundred times about how "this script is so much better than most of the scripts that I read" that is just so cute when this little girl says them in all seriousness.

Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)

Posted by jeffy at May 14, 2003 12:40 AM

I saw this at the festival and liked it, but I did feel the same way about drama induced by character dying for no good reason. The comics scenes were great, and well done in such a low-budget film.

Posted by: Anita Rowland at May 17, 2003 09:37 AM