The Not so Unusual Lives of Altar Boys
When it comes to coming of age movies their effectiveness comes from connection, something a character feels you can connect with bringing back memories of your own adolescence. It means that a coming of age movie can push boundaries, do things differently and include fantastic symbolic animations but if you don't connect with the characters and their growing pains the movie won't work. And that is sadly my problem with "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" because I didn't connect with anything that the characters were going through despite highlighting the regular issues of young love, friendship and growing up.
Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch - Milk) and Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin - The Cider House Rules) are typical young teens who have a total dislike for their teacher Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster - Contact). It is their hatred of the strict Sister that fills the comic book which they draw and also fuels their imagination as they come up with ways in which they would like to do away with her. At the same time Francis is dealing with feelings towards Margie Flynn (Jena Malone) who has a secret, a secret which torments Francis as he struggles to deal with what she tells him. When Sister Assumpta discovers their folder of drawings the boys along with their close friends set out to exact revenge but in doing so will change their lives for ever.
So as already mentioned I didn't get "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" or to be more exact I got it but it didn't wow me. Yes there is the originality of these teenage friends living out their fantasies via their cartoons and we have the rather dark element of Margie's secret but beyond that what we have is normal issues. We see Francis dealing with his feelings towards Margie whilst Tim becomes slightly jealous by the fact he is hanging with someone else rather than him. We also get to see extreme moments of boredom which involve chopping down a telephone pole and the usual assortment of scenes of drinking and experimenting with drugs.
Now all of which is fine if you can connect to any one of the characters be it Francis, Tim or Margie as then you have this sense of nostalgia and remembering what it was like for you. But if you don't have that connection "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" is just another coming of age movie with a darkness when it comes to various events unravelling. Yes there are the animations which are a nice touch but even then there is still that huge block if you fail to connect to any of the characters.
The knock on effect of this is that if you connect you will probably be more impressed by the characters than if you don't connect and so for me Emile Hirsch, Kieran Culkin and Jena Malone all deliver solid performances but they weren't memorable. It didn't help matters that when it comes to Jodie Foster the role of Sister Assumpta did not allow her to show what a great actress she is and the actual character is poorly written failing to establish that whilst strict her strictness if out of love. Oh the strictness is amusing but it becomes a case of quirky without meaning which is the same when it comes to Vincent D'Onofrio as chain smoking Father Casey.
What this all boils down to is that "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" whilst quirky with the clever animations is like so many other coming of age movies. And what that means is that unless you feel some deep connection to a character and what they are going through you are left with just another series of cliches with a couple of darker scenes thrown in to add variety.