|Director: Martin Krejcí |
|Screenplay: Olivia Dufault|
|Stars: Jaeden Martell (Paul), Sophie Giannamore (Aristiana), John Turturro (Mr. Silk), Chris Messina (Denny), Chloë Sevigny (Jen), Eve Hewson (Rose), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Nicholas), J.J. Alfieri (Gas Station Clerk)|
|MPAA Rating: PG-13|
|Year of Release: 2020|
Paul (Jaeden Martell), the teenage protagonist of The True Adventures of Wolfboy, has a condition called hypertrichosis, also known as “Wolfman Syndrome.” As the syndrome’s nickname attests, it causes the body to grow excess hair, often all over. On Paul, whose face is completely covered down to his neck, as is most of his body, it makes him look not at all unlike Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolfman (1940), which is why he is nicknamed Wolfboy. Paul loathes his condition and tries to hide it with all ill-fitting ski mask, and as we see in the film’s opening scene in which his well-meaning father, Denny (Chris Messina), takes him to a carnival for his birthday, kids around him can be cruel to the point of sadism. Paul so hates his own face that he refuses to allow any pictures to be taken of him and, in one poignant detail, he has scratched off the surface at the top of the full-body mirror in his room, which keeps him from having to face his own reflection.
When Paul receives a letter from his mother, who left him and his father when he was a baby, telling him to come find her when he is ready, he takes it as a sign and runs away from home. With no money and no real plan, he sets out to traverse the landscape between New York City and northern Pennsylvania, a journey that comprises much of the film. The screenplay by Olivia Dufault, a writer and story editor for the television series Preacher and Legion, breaks the film into chapters, each of which is preceded by an elaborate, fantastical painting that frames Paul’s journey as the stuff or myth and fairy tales, with different characters taking on the fabled roles of devils and mermaids. Paul’s journey first takes him into the world of Mr. Silk (John Turturro), the silver-haired impresario of the carnival he attended the night before who immediately sees in Paul a sideshow attraction he can exploit. Paul suffers the indignities of being a caged object before exacting his revenge and leaving. He then comes across Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), a winsome, but troubled teen girl who is willing to accompany him on his journey (she recognizes a fellow outcast when she sees one). They hook up with Rose (Eve Hewson), a pink-haired delinquent friend of Aristiana’s, who takes them on a spree of convenience store robberies. Meanwhile, Denny and a New York police detective (Michelle Wilson) are both tracking Paul’s whereabouts, as is the nefarious Mr. Silk, who clearly wants revenge on the boy.
In its broad parameters, The True Adventures of Wolfboy is a modern epic with all the trappings of the great journeys undertaken by the likes of Odysseus, Huckleberry Finn, and Frodo Baggins, even if it is largely confined to a few hundred miles on the East Coast. The journey is really just an excuse to allow the characters to grapple with their differences from a society into which they were born, but has no use for them, and in this regard the film is an effective ode to the pain that can be inflicted by narrow-mindedness. Paul, who is well played by Jaeden Martell (he played the stuttering Bill Denbrough in It), is a complicated character and one that the film refuses to sentimentalize. Paul treats his struggling father quite contemptuously early in the film, risking our identification with him. As Aristiana points out, he isn’t used to being nice to people, perhaps because he has spent so much time isolating himself to hide his appearance, which makes him tragic. Aristiana has her own complications, but she provides precisely the kind of warm, nonjudgmental heart that Paul needs, even though she can be prickly at times, as well.
First-time feature Martin Krejcí wisely keeps the story focused on the characters, since Dufault’s plotting sometimes strains credulity (Paul’s ability to not be caught despite travelling in plain sight and committing multiple crimes in full view of witnesses, for example). It is not a perfect film, as its desire to avoid easy sentimentality sometimes leads it into dark corners from which it struggles to escape, but overall The True Adventures of Wolfboy earns its stripes as a thoughtful, meaningful paean to outcasts, oddballs, and dreamers, hirsute and otherwise.
Copyright © 2020 James Kendrick
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