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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Film Festival 07.26.12] comedy drama

The McManus brothers directorial debut Funeral Kings gives one of the most honest portrayals of young, pre-high school teenagers that I've seen in a long time. Since receiving an Official Selection in SXSW the film has gained rave reviews and sold out screenings at the Fantasia Film Festival. However, despite its more enjoyable qualities, it wouldn't surprise me if this turns into another festival circuit head-turner that amounts to little more.

It's the age where we were more aware than the adults ever gave us credit for, yet still too young too know how naive we really were. That's where we find Charlie, Felix, David and Andy-with a vague idea of how they want the world to see them, but no knowledge in how to achieve it. So, the foul-mouthed group of alter boys entertain themselves by stealing, skipping classes at their Catholic school and, of course, fantasizing about naked chicks. In their heads, they're cool and always in control, but when a friend drops off a locked chest before going MIA, the boys soon find themselves in more trouble than they're ready to handle. It's easy to become nostalgic, as we're reminded of that conflicted period between adulthood and adolescence.

To the film's great credit, it gives a great deal to rave about. The cinematography is on point. Every scene looks and feels natural, adding to the sense that this is the quiet suburban town any of us could have grown up or wreaked minimal havoc in. It was also extremely well casted. It's nice to see young teenage boys, portraying true, young teenage boys, instead of sweet, innocent, bubbly youngsters, or middle schoolers with five o'clock shadows. At first, I even thought they looked a bit young for their characters, but a quick mental notes of old yearbook photos cleared that right up. Often after being so many years removed from a young age, it becomes difficult to accurately imagine what those years are like. Casting the boys at or around that age helps to set us back at that time-old enough to rule the middle school but too babyfaced to blend in high school.

The characters stories are sweet, as well. Our protagonist, Charlie, is cocky and insulting. He tries way too hard to sounds and look tough, overcompensating for his lack of self-assurance. However, over the weeklong time span the film covers in the boys lives, Charlie goes through a significant change in maturity that audiences can relate to and respect. Also, while Charlie must learn to accept his youth, David, the innocent new kid, must learn to enjoy it. As the boys push themselves and each other to risk new perils, each character is forced to let his true colors show, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Each character has his own voice, goal and vibrant personality, encapsulating the awkward gray periods they're all striving to make their way through.

Unfortunately, despite the characters, the lighting and all of the film's other shining qualities, it's the simple shortcomings that keep Funeral Kings from becoming more than a good festival film. For example, the film continues to extinguish moments of high tension without really giving them a chance to rise and develop. It's unclear if this is due to the editing or the script, but when we jump from a group of boys seemingly trapped in someone else's home to strolling down the street unscathed, we can't help but wonder what was the purpose in the previous scene's set up? It moves the story along but leaves questions unanswered and the audience wondering where the conflict went.

This also relates to the issue of pacing and subplots. Throughout the script, the boys share rumors and discuss drama surrounding David's family and people in their neighborhood. While they do investigate further into these tales, effectively confirming some, it never quite goes any further. There have been critically acclaimed films that simply give an honest glimps into the lives of everyday people, as they toil through everyday changes. However, as the McManus brothers introduce subplots involving drugs, crime, adultery, etc., without payoff or acknowledgement later on (aside from maybe a verbal statement that these things are, in fact, going on), it only helps to drive the point home of how inconsequential young boys can be. Don't get me wrong-not all films about young teens has to be Thirteen, Kids, or even Stand By Me. One could even argue that every scene provides more insight into the theme of growing up too fast-the more the boys hear and discover, the younger they look and feel. Still, dropping dramatic plot reveals soon after they're exposed is more reminiscent of Tommy Wiseau's The Room than anything else. We just needed someone to announce they had cancer.

This also alters the pacing of the story. There's no build into the climax but rather a set of instances where the kids believe they're in trouble and promptly find out they're not. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone once stated that an important question to ask when writing any narrative story is whether each action affects, follows or inhibits another, instead of constantly saying "and then this happens." Even if you despise Parker and Stone, this is still a valuable argument and as I watched the boys in Funeral Kings bounce from one decision to the next without any repercussions, I felt that this film was truly suffering from that "and then" symptom. It is significant that the boys are consistently influencing each other's decisions and actions, as well as making choices on their own. This develops character and, as said before, we can walk away from the film looking at these boys as fully developed human beings-the kids we could've been or grown up with. Nevertheless, after the first act we're thrown so many random side stories that wind up affecting nothing in the end that it actually feels like they were placed there to add time, with no better way to drag us up to a climax that also simply comes and goes.

A character driven film about young foul-mouthed 14-year-olds, with limited dramatic conflict, can be difficult to pinpoint a target audience for. The characters are set up in a way that young teens and kids could connect with. However, between forced foul language and Charlie swinging a gun in the trailer, it looks like a film young kids might take interest in if only their parents would let them. It gives off that nostalgic appeal to adults in their 20's, perhaps even into the 30's, and is definitely the type of film that sells out on the festival circuit. One that we're happy to have seen, yet probably won't go as far as spending any more money to add it to our coveted "Must Have" DVD collectons-or even our "Why Not's".

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