The True Adventures of Wolfboy, 2020.
Directed by Martin Krejci.
Starring Jaeden Martell, John Turturro, Eve Hewson, Chris Messina, Stephen Henderson, Sophie Giannamore, and Chloë Sevigny.
Follows a young boy who runs away from home in the search of his estranged mother.
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Of course, the statement applies to those that bully the eponymous Wolfboy at the center of The True Adventures of Wolfboy, but it’s mainly an upfront declaration that this movie is nothing like whatever family-friendly story you might be expecting. Played by Jaeden Martell (most known from the It adaptations and recently the psychological mind games of The Lodge), Paul is a 13-year-old hybrid of boy and wolf, although it’s presented here as more of a biological skin condition rather than with typical monster movie tropes. He’s a character grounded into reality which makes the hazing from his peers more sympathetic, and little bits of exposition explaining that cutting off the hair only makes it return thicker expands on that humanizing of fantasy.
And while the movie is about accepting yourself for who you are, director Martin Krejcí (with Olivia Dufault writing the script) approaches this by way of a dark fairytale that takes fictional ostracizations and interweaves it with characters dealing with real-life circumstances that place a target of unwarranted hatred on their backs such as transgender identity or a lazy eye. The stroke of genius within The True Adventures of Wolfboy doesn’t just come from tackling the fear of the unknown but the magical realism execution of it all that sees a male-to-female transgender girl (Sophie Giannamore as Aristiana) escaping the toxicity of her dead-naming mother by singing and living as a mermaid (realized through gorgeous costume design and quirky characteristics). Eve Hewson also plays Rose, an older teenage girl sporting an eyepatch that goes around robbing gas stations while living inside of her car (which feels like a stand-in for a pirate ship).
All of these individuals amount to much more than whatever outward labels define them on the surface. Some viewers are going to be confused and likely even be put off by a teenage transgender girl casually talking about in detail how she would murder her mother for not accepting her gender, and there’s not really anything wrong with that considering it does take a while of the short 88-minute running time for the dark tone of the film to click, but it should be embraced that this narrative about finding self-love is not afraid to pull punches and go to some harsh truths. Aristiana also jokes that in 20 years she will most likely be an abandoned prostitute, which also stings given what statistics tell us about transgender people with no family or support system. It’s rough out there for anyone that is not “normal” per se, and it’s a message that has been snuck in here under the guise of a monster movie that’s really a condemnation of how society dehumanizes anyone that doesn’t fit into a box or easy label.
With that said, the focus of the story is still on Paul who is struggling to simply live an average life. He has no friends and so little confidence in himself that he wears a red facemask over his head like he is planning a bank robbery. His father (Chris Messina) is affectionate but doesn’t quite understand how to guide Paul through being ostracized, coming up with the misguided solution of placing him into a fancy private school for people with disabilities, but not necessarily an environment that would improve his self-esteem or even people he might relate to. The fact that Paul’s mother (Chloë Sevigny) fled his life as soon as he was born has not helped matters, although a letter he receives in the mail suggesting a place to meet and reconnect offers hope and sparks the above journey where he forms his own group of misfit friends.
Naturally, not everyone is kind as John Turturro pops up as a carnival owner who tries to beat it into Paul’s mind that he should embrace being a freak and put on the show people want. Obviously, it’s a financial ploy and also gives the narrative a villain, but like most side characters here he’s not really that fleshed out and it’s really just John Turturro chewing the scenery. The family drama arc assuredly wraps up touchingly, yet still feels scant and far less engaging than the fever dream middle portion seeing these teenagers up to no good lashing out at the world in search of loving themselves.
The True Adventures of Wolfboy is clearly a tale of two movies, one more emotionally impactful than the other, but also one where the weaker elements feed the stronger material. The ideas don’t always fully mesh together, but there’s an inspired charm to this dark fairytale that is not content to regurgitate the same tired “be yourself” PSA without some human pain and majestic pizzazz.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com