Even though school is in session during Funeral Kings, it feels like one of those 'endless summer' movies where boys that are too young to work, and too old to hang out with their parents, find interesting and elaborate ways to get into trouble. Befreckled Andy and his best friends Charlie and Bobby aim to misbehave while doing altar-boy funeral duty at their Catholic Church. At fourteen, they are restless and a bit horny; they are certainly not beyond looking down a young woman's top mid-funeral even as she wipes her damp eyes with a tissue. They know a good scam when they see it. Sitting quietly (deceptively serene and innocent) in their white gowns on the dais during these occasions not only gets them out of class, but it allows for them to play hooky for the rest of the day as well. Throw half a bottle the sacrament wine into an empty water bottle and away they go. Their routine is thrown out of whack when Bobby lands himself in juvy and ends up hiding a huge locked truck up in Andy's room. The boys are quick to adopt Bobby's replacement, new kid Dave who just moved out east from California (parents divorced? maybe) starred in a violent movie where a well known actress might have shown her tits. They put Dave through the ropes of the grift - scamming food from the local chinese restaurant, attempts at stealing X-rated videos from the local video shop and buying cigarettes from the older kids at school. All the while the mysterious trunk begs to be opened in Bobby's absence.
The McManus Brothers first feature, a funny but quite realistic and grounded comedy, expanded from their own 2009 short film (ala Bottle Rocket) compellingly paints a portrait of boys on the cusp of their first sexual experience; all bluster and confusion. The film intimately follows them around from haunt to haunt with a subtle hand-held camera. Of course Andy, Charlie and Dave cannot help themselves from cracking open the large trunk in their possession, and a 2nd act plot begins to emerge when fireworks and a gun is amongst all the 'naughty toys' contained therein. The sight of 14 year olds goofing off with a loaded gun is an apt metaphor for that age. That they bear witness to older kids having sex and debauched party-going, witness a petty drug dealer (a slimy, world weary and wonderful Kevin Corrigan) intimidate an older high-school kid, higher on the food chain than Andy and Charlie, is certainly in the same vein. In sharp contrast to Wes Anderson's stylized Moonrise Kingdom, Funeral Kings offers a drama and a comedy and a thriller of the youth-in-trouble variety laced infoul language which is also set on Rhode Island but here, the parents are more or less absent. Well, they've given these boys enough freedom yet trust in their young innocence. And while this one is set in modern day, it feels a lot more like it is set in the 1970s. Take away the specifics of altar-boy duty, firearms and the brushes with older women, and this movie feels like my child-hood writ large. The child actors, all of them playing their real age, are very convincing as the wannabe bad-asses they try to project to the world, but concealing total inexperience. A charming moment that captures all of this when Charlie has to ask his friend Felix how to operate the pump on a Keg, even while Felix, pretending to be older to a girl at the party, is trying to give him the brush off because of Charlie's baby face.
The film culminates into a wonderful climax (and a catharsis of sorts denouement) where the kids have to figure out both how to own up to their actions and still hide a skeleton or two in their own psychological closets. It has some effortless seeming observations on how personal responsibility (and compromise) can function that that precarious age while still being funny and engaging - there is not a whiff of moralizing or being pedantic here. These kids don't use the internet or iPhones, they learn from the school of experience. Striding the line between delinquency and innocence in a way that feels very real, Funeral Kings has a casual honesty and authenticity to it that is somehow simultaneously nostalgic and timeless without resorting to any of the tricks or excesses of studio comedies that often mine the same vein. Want to feel 14 again but maybe a bit more badass? This is your movie.