The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
***.5 GM
Starring: Emile Hirsch, Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone, Jodie Foster, Vincent D'Onofrio


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Am I the only one who finds the clergy a bit creepy? I'm not just talking about the whole pedophilia scandal, although that plays a huge role in justifying the paranoia. I just mean in general: the soft-spoken man perhaps so terrified of his tendencies to lead a bad life that he swears his fealty to an invisible man what lives in the clouds in the hopes that the constant fear of divine wrath can curb his dark urges... or perhaps the desperate, shattered woman who is so disgusted with what she views as the distasteful amorality of the entire world that she swears her fealty to an invisible man what lives in the clouds in the hopes that being on the right side of The Force when the Rapture is unleashed will at least save herself and as many people as she's managed to brainwash into her flock from eternal damnation.

I know these are harsh generalities, and I know that there are very decent, honest and trustworthy people within the realms of the church's thrall, truthfully believing that they are working in the best interest of all of humanity, but I guess I don't trust enough in the inherent benevolence of our species to believe that the drive is the same for the majority of the people in the business of being holy. It IS a business. I fear the underbelly, be it rape or simple, disgusting avarice for power, money and self-righteousness.

Anyway, this comes to mind because Jodie Foster and Vincent D'Onofrio play educators in a Catholic school. Foster plays a harsh, strict nun that's frantically unnerved by any flouting of the rules. D'Onofrio, however, plays the more laid-back, approachable priest, and I don't know if it's because of my general qualms about the officially religious or because of D'Onofrio's talent to play disturbing characters, but this particular priest always had a slight undercurrent of creepiness, even though it never really manifests.

It's the story of two kids in this school, maybe 20-25 years ago, named Francis (Hirsch) and Tim (Culkin). They're squirming under Nunzilla's (Foster) unwavering tyranny, and they express their frustration with minor rebellion and imagining themselves as kick-ass comic book characters, and we're treated to animated superheroic sequences illustrating emotional aspects of the story through the eyes of Francis, the one who can draw. When Francis gets a girlfriend Margie (Malone), things start to get a little strained between the two friends, especially when she lets out a few rather twisted secrets. As Francis gets more involved with his galpal, though, Tim starts to get even more frustrated with his life, and that leads him to follow through on one of the dumbest ideas since Holden's three-way in Chasing Amy, which is trying to abduct a cougar from the zoo and set it loose in the school.

A lot of this touched home with me, even though I wasn't raised in any sort of iron-fisted religious environment. There were just a lot of quiet, simple touches of suburban existence, the types of bikes they rode, the little places they'd go to hang out together, the very sweet scenes of first blossoming love between Francis and Margie, and all of the comic book imaginings are bits and pieces of my own childhood, and thus it all resonated with me a little more deeply as a result, although nobody I was friends with was dumb enough to go poking around in a cougar's cage for no good reason, but it can be assumed that Tim was bordering on suicidal in his frustration, and the chewing-bullets method had been done too many times already.

A few extreme-nearing-absurd revelations from Margie aside, this is a well-done tale of kids with too many rules struggling to escape them without becoming violent malcontents. The animated sequences are well done and perfectly constructed to convey a sense of childhood imagination and creating adventure out of angst. Foster and D'Onofrio have roles that could easily be one-note caricatures of authority figures, but they inject enough honesty and genuine concern into their performances that you even feel for them as well. When you're not being creeped out by D'Onofrio.

By the way - don't fret. There's no pedophilia in this film. Although the next time somebody gets all up in your face about 'God's plan,' ask them why God's plan includes raping children. I'd really like an explanation for that one, because it makes no fucking sense to me.

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