For a movie that basically puts a ’90s spin on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with Winona Ryder as a runaway babe given shelter by horny teens in a prep-school dorm, Boys should be more fun. For a movie adapted from the short story “Twenty Minutes,” by the gifted James Salter, Boys should be more literate. For a movie written and directed by Stacy Cochran, whose 1992 debut, My New Gun, heralded an astute new talent, Boys should be more, well, astute. Instead, Cochran’s fable flounders in search of a wryly comic tone that remains stubbornly elusive.
Too bad. Cochran begins the tale with a promising air of mystery, as a cop (the invaluable John C. Reilly) calls on Patty Vare (Ryder) at her Maryland home to ask about a car stolen the night before and about the disappearance of Bud Valentine (Last Dance’s Skeet Ulrich), a hot pitcher for Pittsburgh. A nervous Patty claims ignorance and hops on her horse for an afternoon ride. When the horse rears and she’s knocked unconscious, Patty’s found by Baker (Lukas Haas), a senior at the tie-and-jacket Sherwood School for Boys.
Baker is so besotted by this sleeping princess that the younger students tease him about the “boner” in his pants. But soon the dwarfs, er, boys are all doing little favors for Patty. She doesn’t want to go home or to a hospital. Baker does it her way, even when she entices him to join her at a local fair for a few beers and a roll in the grass – offenses that could get him expelled. Ryder and Haas (the big-eyed Amish boy from Witness is now past puberty) make adorable flirts. But the fuss the film tries to stir about the kid and the older woman doesn’t fly since Ryder, at 24, still looks like jailbait no matter how much she smears Patty with lipstick and badass attitude.
More damagingly, the film lacks the dangerous edge of Salter’s haunting story. Flashbacks to Patty’s night with Bud don’t resonate with the terror of a life thrown out of balance. The happy ending is a miscalculation. It’s fine for Snow White to go out with a smile and a song; Patty Vare needed to lie down with darkness.