A review of “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for violence, language

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

 

 

“Crumb” bumps up against the teen genre in this rambling but engaging coming-of-age tale based on Chris Fuhrman’s original novel of the same name.

Tim and Francis are a pair of randy Catholic high-schoolers on the brink of adulthood, grabbing at life with all the gusto they can muster.  Tim (Kieran Culkin) is the product of a broken home, an irreverent adventurer with a taste for danger.  Best buddy Francis (Emile Hirsch) is his willing accomplice and a talented cartoonist to boot.  Bored by the daily religious ritual imposed by stern authority figure Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster), the boys utilize their spare time and talents by creating a tetchy comic book that depicts Assumpta as a wicked motorcycle chick who crusades against their animated alter-egos.

The fluttering of a first love with a lovely classmate (Jena Malone as Margie) turns things around for Francis. He’s preoccupied and daft with feeling. Tim, resentful of his buddy’s wandering attentions, steps up the level of his pranks with reckless abandon, hoping to get noticed.

I like a movie that dares to take chances.  “Altar Boys” plays fast and loose with the dark psyches of its leads, cutting in some marvelous animation (by Emmy award-winning “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane) that vividly illustrates Tim and Francis’s imaginative minds. The animated subplot keenly depicts the inner struggle of our adolescent heroes – insecure, uncontrolled and intense. 

The live action is awash in youthful sentiment, and bolstered by some fine performances. Malone (“Life as a House”) nails the still-waters-run-deep virtue of her burgeoning womanhood.  Hirsch is a real find, displaying the maturity and wisdom reminiscent of a younger Josh Hartnett as Trip Fontaine in “The Virgin Suicides”.  Foster, first and foremost a pro, is a holy bitch of a clergywoman. Risky conclusion is memorable for its unyielding consequences.