Magazine article Insight on the News

Altar Egos: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys Isn't about Predatory Priests, but It Has a Dark Side. (Film)

Magazine article Insight on the News

Altar Egos: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys Isn't about Predatory Priests, but It Has a Dark Side. (Film)

Article excerpt

At turns benign and beguiling, dark and disturbing, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys might be described as a mediation on innocence and experience. Based on the novel by Chris Fuhrman about a group of teen-agers attending Catholic school in the 1970s, the movie mixes animation with film footage--a popular technique these days--and addresses some unconventional coming-of-age themes, including incest and depression. No one can chide director Peter Care and screenwriter Jeff Stockwell for refusing to take risks.

Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) and best friend Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) are typical 15-year-olds--bored, mischievous and curious about the usual vices. When not devising elaborate pranks to devil Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster, who coproduced the film) and Father Casey (Vincent D'Onofrio), they are collaborating on a comic book whose superheroes act as their alter egos. Tim, something of a budding intellectual, has become enraptured with the work of William Blake, whose poem, "The Tyger," prefigures his fate. Francis, more mature if less introspective, is entranced with a more corporeal object of desire, the willowy Margie Flynn (Jena Malone), who turns out to have her own fearful symmetry.

Care and Stockwell, both making their feature-film debuts, conjure clever metaphors and symbols to tie together the adventures of the boys and their comic creations. Executing a homework assignment on the principle of triangulation, the boys cut down a telephone pole that looms like a cross, in the process tempting death. The Grim Reaper, who appears during the animated segments as a grotesque distortion of Sister Assumpta, finally comes collecting in real life, although a comic book resurrection at the film's end is appropriately Catholic.

Some bits seem tacked on to satisfy the film's translation from the novel, published posthumously (Fuhrman died untimely as he was making revisions to the book in the mid-nineties). …

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