Summary: A Must See!!
Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is a surprisingly balanced, well-made movie with excellent acting. It also has a nice balance between mischief and mature themes, which is pretty appropriate for a coming-of-age story. It's not an easy movie to watch, but it is certainly a compelling and sometimes funny one.
It takes place in the 60s (I think), at a Catholic school in an ordinary little town. A small group of the boys there write and illustrate a comic book, with themselves as superhumans. Jodie Foster knows about their growing rebellion, and in her efforts to care for her "children," she keeps trying to help them, even if they despise her for it.
At first glance one might think that "Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" as having a bad attitude towards Catholicism. But the bad attitude seems to be mainly that of the boys.
Emile Hirsch and the Kieran Culkin are good as best friends Francis and Tim. Even teir faces are a bit like an angel and a good-natured pal; Hirsch is a relatively naive boy who is just learning about being a man, and Culkin is a mischief-maker with a good heart and no survival instincts. Tim deals with his family strife by being reckless, a realistic response. Jena Malone has the right mix of sweetness and sadness as Margie. Jodie Foster (who also produced the film) has a similar mix of sternness and kindness; you get the feeling that Sister Assumpta could be a real friend to the boys if they wanted it like that. And Vincent D'Onofrio is cheerily likeable as Father Casey.
The direction is very good, especially since the real-life stuff is regularly interrupted by the comic book adventures. Some of the scenes are outrageously funny, like when the statue of Saint Agatha dangles precariously over the unsuspecting Father Casey. And some are poignant without a word, like when Francis runs away from Margie after learning her secret.
This is not a feel-good movie, but it is a vivid coming-of-age movie. Though not perfect, it's an intriguing movie that everyone should see.