The True Adventures of Wolfboy

 

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A highly unusual and very well acted film from two debutants.

 
True Adventures of Wolfboy, The

Chris Messina and Jaeden Martell

 

What an unorthodox and surprising piece of work this is! Its ingredients are such a strange mix that its successful elements are something of a triumph but it contains misjudgments too. An original work by the playwright Olivia Dufault who has not written for the screen before, it brings to mind 21st century books specifically aimed at young adults. Nevertheless, it also puts one in mind of that 19th century classic novel, Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. At its centre is a 13-year-old boy named Paul excellently played by Jaeden Martell from 2017's It. Living with his father (Chris Messina), he is troubled by a medical condition that renders him so hairy that he dons a red ski mask to hide his head and face (it is part of Martell's triumph in the role that his eyes are so very expressive). This condition exists in real life but, whereas Peter Bogdanovich’s 1985 Mask asked to be taken specifically and literally as a study of a teenage boy disfigured by a bone disease, The True Adventures of Wolfboy presents its young hero as someone whom we are invited to see as representing anyone who grows up outside what are seen as the norms of society and feels different because of that.

 

Martin Krejci, a Czech choosing to make his debut work in America, directs with skill and brings off the move from the initial realism of the contemporary setting to the almost fairy tale tone adopted when The True Adventures of Wolfboy becomes a road movie. This occurs when Paul, regardless of his father's love for him, runs away to track down the mother he had never known (when she appears late on the film this role is played by Chloë Sevigny). It is Paul's episodic encounters on the road that echo Pinocchio and not least when he falls into the hands of a ruthless carnival owner, Mr Silk (John Turturro), who seeks to exhibit him as a freak. The boy's adventures are presented in chapters with titles that are redolent of old-time tales. Thus 'Wolfboy Meets a Mermaid' becomes a sequence in which Paul meets Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), a youngster who will become his friend and travelling companion.

 

At the same time as featuring these traditional elements, The True Adventures of Wolfboy also has a modern slant and at its best it has an equal appeal for adults and youngsters. A key element in its character lies in the fact that Aristiana, who helps Paul to accept and to come to terms with his condition, is herself a trans girl who had been born as a boy but is now happy to be herself. The actress in this role is indeed trans, as is the writer Olivia Dufault, so it can be said with confidence that the film's aim in encouraging approval of those who are different is at once specific (as in Aristiana's case) and general (as represented by Paul). This side of the film is gentle in tone and not inappropriate for today's younger viewers. But, if they are to learn from it, one can only regret the segment of the film in which a rebel girl (Eve Hewson) encourages the two travellers to join her in committing robberies. This episode could have been portrayed as a moral warning but instead it is presented jokily as witness the fact that it is accompanied by a mocking song entitled 'Marriage Is for Old Folks'. The film goes badly off the rails here and there is another misjudgment when Mr Silk in pursuit of Paul catches up with him in a scene that feels totally contrived even by fairy tale standards.

 

Fortunately, there is a final segment still to come when realism takes over once more. It is here that Paul meets his mother and these scenes are really well judged - they are helped enormously by fine cameo performances from Sevigny and Stephen McKinley Henderson. All of which makes The True Adventures of Wolfboy an odd ride but one that is often rewarding.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jaeden Martell, Chris Messina, Eve Hewson, Sophie Giannamore, Chloë Sevigny, John Tuturro, Michelle Wilson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Melissa Mandisa, Doug Crane, Nick Pulinski, Margo Davis, Bob Rusch.

 

Dir Martin Krejci, Pro Kimberly Steward, Declan Baldwin, Lauren Beck, Benjamin Blake and Josh Godfrey, Screenplay Olivia Dufault, Ph Andrew Droz Palermo, Pro Des Aaron Osborne, Ed Joseph Krings, Music Nick Urata, Costumes Donna Zakowska.

 

K Period Media/Legacy Effects/Big Indie Pictures-Signature Entertainment.
88 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 15 March 2021. Available on VOD. Cert. 12.