SXSW '12! Nordling
Says FUNERAL KINGS Is A Triumphant Coming-Of-Age Debut!
This ain't your parents' idea of a kids movie.
FUNERAL KINGS is the debut feature film from Kevin and Matthew McManus,
and one of the most confident, assured first films that I've seen in years.
What seems like a simple coming-of-age story, taking place during one
particularly chaotic week in the lives of three young men feverishly
grasping for an adulthood that is just out of their reach, turns out to be
my favorite film of SXSW, and one of my personal favorite films of the year
What's refreshing about FUNERAL KINGS is its complete lack of nostalgia
for childhood. The McManus brothers remember that time in every boy's life -
so very interested in girls, but just on that side of young to be unable to
do anything about it; a child's exhuberance and innocence all hidden behind
pumped-up bravado and braggadocio - and they remember that at times it just
plain sucked to be a kid, especially when you're at that moment in your life
that is neither adult or child, with all the yearnings of adulthood but the
physicality and innocence of just being so young that it seems a million
years away before you get to do anything cool.
Andy (Dylan Hartigan) and Charlie (Alex Maizus) are altar boys at the
Catholic school they attend, and they work funeral duty, which would seem
like a crap job except for the fact that when a funeral happens they get to
get out of class and spend the day hanging out, smoking cigarettes, and
dropping so many F-bombs in regular conversation it's like they invented the
word. When the third altar boy who works with them gets sent to juvenile
hall, a new kid to school becomes a part of their dynamic - David (Jordan
Puzzo), who unlike Andy and Charlie is still reveling in his childhood and
not as eager as the other two to dive into that more complicated world of
girls and sex.
But David's done something the other two haven't - he's been in a movie,
a movie that because it's R rated he hasn't seen. So Andy and Charlie decide
to take this naive boy and bring them into their world, skipping school,
hanging out, and frequenting the local video store owned by Iggy (Kevin
Corrigan), which might just be a front for more criminal activities. When an
older kid, Bobby (Brandon Waltz) hides a big trunk at Andy's house, the
three conspire to break it open and see what's in it. The movie isn't so
much about what's hidden in the trunk - if you watch the trailer you get
some idea - but what the boys do with it. Throughout the tumultuous week
there's a party that the boys manage to get invited to due to David's
celebrity. There's also their friend Felix (Charles Kwame Odei) who seems to
be much more at ease with girls than they are, and older kid Ryan (P. J.
McCabe), who may be in serious trouble with some serious people.
FUNERAL KINGS has quite a few characters to keep up with, but it wisely
stays focused on the three boys Andy, Charlie, and David. Andy and Charlie
are ready to leap into adulthood, but David is still a kid at heart, into
childlike things. And while Andy and Charlie are in the full grip of
adolescence, there's something about David's innocence and simplicity that
they latch on to - perhaps it was just a lot simpler back then, playing game
cards and just being a kid. But they can't look back now, and they drag
David with them into a much larger world than they've experienced before.
I'm a sucker for movies like this. But FUNERAL KINGS doesn't sugarcoat
those awkward years in any way - as I said before, this is nostalgia-free
and honest in its portrayal of being on the cusp of adulthood - and yet, the
filmmakers also realize that there comes a time in every boy's life that you
have to choose your friends and share the most painful, intimate moments
with them. I grew up in Catholic school, and so I really identified with
these kids and their problems. These boys are definitely from my world.
Did I mention the language? Yeah, these kids swear like every kid I ever
knew back then. There's something so genuine about the word "fuck" just
being peppered into everyday conversation like it is in the dialogue, but
the McManus brothers completely nail that cadence and rhythm of boys
shooting the shit. The soundtrack is phenomenal, a mix of hip-hop that makes
the movie feel alive and with a pulse.
And then there are the performances, which are so genuine that this movie
doesn't feel scripted at all. It feels lived in. We'll be seeing Jordan
Puzzo later in the year in Wes Anderson's MOONLIGHT KINGDOM, Dylan Hartigan
is terrific as Andy, but the real revelation here is Alex Maizus, a kid with
the face of an angel and the mouth of an open sewer. His rage at just
not-quite-being a grownup yet is palpable, and he nails that angry aspect of
adolescence of being unable to do anything about it. FUNERAL KINGS has some
of the best child performances I've seen in a long time, even if their
parents on set turned white at hearing their little beauties drop the F-bomb
every few minutes.
FUNERAL KINGS is a hell of a debut - the cinematography is gorgeous, the
performances are all fantastic, and it feels like a movie that comes from a
real place and time in these filmmakers' lives. Sometimes kids want to be
grownups so badly that they'll do anything, including stealing a gun and
playing at being men, but in the end, they really are kids, confused and
upset that their world is about to get a whole lot bigger and they might not
be prepared to handle it. The McManus Brothers have captured that moment
perfectly, and the result is one of the best movies of the year.