The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Movie drawing readers to novel that inspired it
By David Desjardines

"Lord, please hear me. Make this woman go away."

Even before The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys first appeared in 1994, the moving and often hilarious coming-of-age story seemed assured of cult status: It was set in the 70s, a decade yet to be given its full due by contemporary creative types from musicians to fashion designers. It had an eye-popping jacket (by a then up-and-coming illustrator who has since added a New Yorker cover to his portfolio). It dealt seriously with comic books, a genre whose diehard fans all but define the very notion of a "cult" following. It was put out by an unlikely publisher, a mid-sized university press in the South. And, its young author, Chris Fuhrman, died before his first and only novel was published. Produced by Jodie Foster it stars, in addition to Foster herself, Vincent D'Onofrio, Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone, and Emile Hirsch, ThinkFilms, the movie's distributor, and Egg Pictures, its production company, will not be the only ones anxiously gauging its reception by critics and moviegoers. Now, with so many more people starting to take notice of Altar Boys, the fans who were there at the start get to say, 'I told you so!'

Like the novel, the film version of The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys centers on a group of eighth-graders at a Catholic school. The kids are smarter than their teacher will admit, they're creative in ways that she can't handle, and they have trouble in their lives that she can't see. One way the kids deal with the confusion of adolescence is to immerse themselves in comic books. They buy them and they draw their own.

The kids are partial to the type of comic book characters pioneered by Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man. Such superheroes, like the kids themselves, are conflicted, sensitive, and highly idealistic-all of which they hide under a veil of cynicism. The film of Altar Boys handles this crucial story element by cutting back and forth between live action and animated sequences. The animated scenes, which feature comic-superheroes-come-to-life, were directed by the creator of Spawn, Todd McFarlane.

"Of course, there were people who still had not heard of the book or the film, and from them we got lots of questions about whether Altar Boys is about the current scandals involving priests and children," said Allison Reid of the University of Georgia Press "

"Well, no," Reid continues, Altar Boys has very little to do with that-but those questions are great opportunities to engage people and tell them what the book, and now the film, are really about: growing up-the pain and the thrill of it. Look at what people have said about the book, for instance, on 'Nothing I've read comes close to telling the trials and the daily struggles of being that misfit kid,' or 'I have never read a more accurate or moving account of being young.' Altar Boys seems to strike a chord with everyone who reads it. It's gratifying to see it beginning to reach people in greater numbers."