The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

I never was a fan of Todd McFarlane, but I have to admit, his comic style is the perfect pick for replicating the art of immature, misogynist children bucking against a religious establishment. That's a judgment of McFarlane more than the children, who are portrayed here as exactly the kind of kids you would expect in 1970s middle America Catholic school. As evocation of a certain adolescent angst, this works very well, and as it entrenches itself in that mindset, it finds a deeply empathetic look at these troubled kids.

While its handling of incestuous sexual assault and juvenile misogyny might be poorly done from a broader perspective, they are realistic to how teenage boys in this milieu might respond. It almost never leaves their perspective, and so we journey with them as they struggle with these issues that are bigger than they could imagine. As we do, we get a sense that these are aspects of their immaturity, so their eventual growth through the story has an inherent critique of their behavior to it.

In other words, they depict without endorsing, which more films than I can count don't get. It's not even a commentary on these things; it simply allows for their flaws to be understood as imperfections, aspects of their limitations, rather than an inherent part of them or their being or a positive quality. It's not "boys being boys"; even as they show the establishment to be worth resenting, they acknowledge these children to be children.

However, the film still has its imperfections, largely in the form of dialogue that feels too on-the-nose or those terrible animations (as much as they fit the tone, as well as they are employed to show the emotional inner life of the boys, they are still really bad sequences). It would certainly improve if more was shown from Margie's perspective, even if the film avoided the worst flaws narrowed perspective might cause. And the ending involves a massive shift in tone that, while well foreshadowed, still feels a bit extreme. But these don't ruin the film or its oddly gentle portrayal of teenage rebellion.

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