Funeral Kings

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/25/12 00:18:37

"Altar boys will be boys."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: You don't really need that much of a hook for a coming-of-age film - they're more or less going to cover the same territory, albeit in different ways - but it doesn't hurt to have one. That way, a person who likes it can recommend something like "Funeral Kings" as "a pretty good coming-of-age flick about kids who serve as altar boys at funerals", rather than something generic that sounds like something the person being given the recommendation has already seen before.

14-year-olds Andy (Dylan Hartigan) and Charlie (Alex Maizus) have already been reaping the benefits of working funerals for a while - mainly getting called out of class at the school near their church and chances to sneak sacramental wine - but 13-year-old David (Jordan Puzzo) is new, given the job after 16-year-old Bobby (Brandon Waltz) is sent to juvie. Before he was shipped off, though, he hid a trunk in Andy's room, telling Andy not to open it or tell Charlie. Yeah, that's going to happen, even if not going back to class after a funeral means they have to include David, who may be a goody-goody but is treated like a big deal in this Rhode Island town because he was in a horror movie the year before.

The funeral aspect actually isn't that big a deal - it's used to show a bit of contrast between intended solemnity and crude reality toward the start, but falls away after a while (although there is the possibility that it could resurface in a way that makes the boys take the job more seriously). What's left is the classic elements of the genre - kids swearing, acting like horndogs but not actually getting very far with girls, looking for trouble and finding more than expected. In short, it's junior high schoolers beign treated like little kids, thinking they should be more.

That's what it is, but how good is it as an example of the genre? Well, it certainly has its moments, with one of the best coming right as the start, as we see just how seriously Andy & Charlie take their responsibilities. Pretty much any scene where Charlie's tendency toward the vulgar bangs up against David's still rather unspoiled decency works, even if there is a mean edge to it. At its best, the movie ends scenes in surprising ways, even if it goes for the familiar (like a sequence where the boys are at a high-school party) fairly often.

The kids do a pretty good job with their material. Dylan Hartigan and Alex Maizus make it easy to believe that Andy and Charlie have been friends for a long time, with Maizus taking every scene he's given as the foul-mouthed kid frustrated by his baby face and wanting to prove his toughness. Jordan Puzzo is a funny balance to that, playing what starts out as an third wheel with realistic awkwardness but able to supply a nervous punchline. Charles Kwame Odei is frequently funny as the occasional fourth member of the group, and while adults are few and far between - most notably Kevin Corrigan as a sketchy video store guy, Michaela McManus as Andy's young stepmother - that's okay; the kids can handle it.

Brothers Kevin and Matthew McManus write and direct, expanding a short film they'd done a couple years earlier, and they manage to give the movie a nice feel. It evokes the timelessness a lot of these movies strive to achieve by being set during the filmmakers' childhoods despite apparently being set in the present day. The Rhode Island setting looks great, and they know how to both use use and subvert the small-town environment.

As this sort of movie goes, "Funeral Kings" is pretty good, and a nice debut for the McManus brothers and their young cast. Some bits are familiar, but in a way, that's kind of the point.

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