Want personalized picks that fit your family?
Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this film is not for kids. The protagonists are surrounded by difficult situations (one has alcoholic parents and is humiliated in school, another is a victim of an older brother's sexual abuse, a girl is suicidal and scars on her wrists are shown), and lack of parental involvement leads to substance abuse of all types, as well as copious amounts of swearing. Young teens pull dangerous pranks (such as cutting down telephone poles with chainsaws), break into wildlife parks and abandoned houses, and blatantly flout authority figures. These characters are rarely punished, and expulsion is treated lightly. Although characters draw obscene pictures and speak graphically about sex, their real-world experience is very limited, and little more than making out and touching above the waist is depicted onscreen. Animated sequences include a lot of comic book violence, and there is a deadly mauling by a mountain lion. There are also several conversations about masturbation.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Set in a small town in the 1970s, THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS centers on Catholic school best friends Tim (Kieran Culkin) and Francis (Emile Hirsch), who go to great lengths both to make life interesting by creating their own comic book series (depicted in the film's animated segments), playing pranks, and talking about sex. The boys must avoid getting in trouble with strict teacher Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster). Francis' crush on troubled Margie (Jena Malone) leads the story into more serious territory.
Is it any good?
This coming-of-age film is much too dark for those actually coming of age, but for mature older teens and adults, it's well worth watching. The film nicely contrasts the dirty minds and knowledge the boys possess with their social awkwardness and hesitancy around girls. The comic-book-like animation sequences are initially distracting, but ultimately enhance the story. Although the nostalgic coming-of-age genre is generally a great one to watch with your family, hold off on this one until your kids are old enough to handle all of the mature themes -- these kids engage in substance abuse and other activities that you don't want them emulating.
Standout performances by the young actors render the characters lovely and believable, although the plot stretches the realm of possibility. Kieran Culkin and Emile Hirsch put in wonderful performances as Tim and Francis, and Jena Malone shines as Margie. Jodie Foster's character suffers from the necessary distance given to all adult characters, but she manages to impart enough humanity to allow the audience to relate to her.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the effect that Margie's secret has on those who know it. How does Sister Assumpta affect the boys? How does she change throughout the movie? How are adults portrayed in the film? How do the characters treat consequences? How does Tim's background affect the way that he sees the world? What is the importance of William Blake's poetry in the film? What does it mean to be a "dangerous thinker"? What is the point of Tim's 'trick' in the end? What does the film say about friendship? Forgiveness?
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.