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November 1, 2020


written by: Olivia Dufault
produced by: Declan Baldwin, Lauren Beck, Benjamin Blake, Josh Godfrey & Kimberly Steward
directed by: Martin Krejčí
rated: PG-13 (for mature thematic content, drinking, some strong language, sexual references and violence – all involving teens)
runtime: 88 min.
U.S. release date: October 30, 2020 (limited)


Stories revolving around ridiculed characters with eye-catching outward appearances have been around forever. The kind where disfigured protagonists typically receive a double-take or are ignored altogether by curious or uncomfortable onlookers. There’s a subgenre of such stories that focus on a young character who looks different, while navigating through those typically awkward adolescent and teenage years. Several of them come to mind – from as Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask” from 1985 and Fred Schepisi’s “Roxanne”, to Victor Salva’s “Powder” from 1995 and Mark Palansky’s “Penelope” from 2006 – and they can be heartbreakingly dramatic, romantic comedies or a hint of fantasy to them. “The True Adventures of Wolfboy”, from Hungarian director Martin Krejčí, has a little bit of all of that, while specifically honing in on the pain of a 13-year-old boy with a condition he can’t hide from, the kind that prevents him from feeling accepted by others. While the film starts out exploring his painful isolation and anxiety, the screenplay by Olivia Dufault injects supporting characters that feel either cliche or of little consequence, as the lead character is put on a journey of discovery and liberation that veers into familiar territory bordering on the cartoonish. Its heart may be in the right place, but its mind tends to wander.

Paul (Jaeden Martell) looks like Eddie Munster in need of a trim or a freshman at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, hairy all over since birth due to a medical condition called hypertrichosis (that’s never mentioned in the film that I recall), and unfortunately has had to wear a ski mask in public due to the looks he receives. Inevitably, he’s received attention from local bullies his age and despite love and encouragement from his father, Denny (Chris Messina), his self-worth continues to take hits as he just can’t stand being himself any longer. On this birthday, Paul’s father takes him to a local carnival, challenging him to stand tall with dignity while waiting in line for a ride without his mask. It’s unbearable and winds up another unfortunate bully encounter for the poor kid. Hey, parents aren’t perfect.



Denny gifts Paul with a pocket knife and a uniform for a special school for social outcasts his age (think Rushmore of the Tod Browning variey), yet despite his good intentions, the single dad can’t seem to cheer Paul up. Paul finds a mysterious birthday gift from his mother – someone he doesn’t know and who’s long been absent from his life – with a map that invites him to meet her at a Pennsylvania address with a promise that all his questions will be answered. Compelled to connect with the void in his life, Paul runs away that night but doesn’t get very far. He wakes up in a field just outside of that carnival and the lost soul meanders his way to lead carnie, Mr. Silk (John Turturro, who serves as executive producer), who may or may not be the devil, who inevitably sees a way to make a buck off the kid’s furry face as the “Dangerous Dog Boy”. Paul escapes the carnival while suddenly heading on a criminal path, encountering other lost souls, such as trans teen, Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), a singing mermaid and Rose (Eve Hewson), a homeless eye-patch wearing thief who lives out of her vehicle.

The film opens in an absorbing manner, with Krejčí putting Martell’s titular character front and center in the camera, rehearsing a mantra into the camera to convince himself into a state of normalcy. Paul’s voice is heard throughout the rest of the story being told, at times his questions for his mother can be heard as a narration to the “Wolfboy”. If only the film had more such introspection and personal evaluation for its main character to dig his teeth into. Instead of that, Olivia Default’s screenplay focuses more on tiresome bully moments and is more concerned with a hero’s journey than it does in examining what it’s like to feel isolated, afraid and helpless for Paul and for his father. “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” starts off with genuine concern for these two characters, but soon dissipates into familiar territory and gets lost in its own whimsy.



After much teenage road trip antics, “Wolfboy” heads into a third act that’s frustrating. The whole subplot with Mr. Silk, who’s been on Paul’s trail (as is a police detective) dissolves into an unfulfilling full stop inside a dog pound, leaving viewers wondering why the character was even included except to have a pony-tailed Turturro chew scenery in a devilish manner like a goth lead singer. Krejčí could’ve improved the overall viewing experience by limiting screen time for Turturro’s Mr. Silk and focusing more on Paul’s discovery of other outsiders and the world far away from the house he shares underneath a highway with his father. Indeed, “Wolfboy” could’ve benefited from more screen time with Martell, Giannamore, and Hewson, having the unexpected trio figure each other out through moments of laughs and connection. Like Pinnochio, Martel’s Paul longs to just simply be normal, something he’s not. His initial back and forth with Giannamore’s Aristiana is humorous, specifically because Paul is kind of a jerk to her, probably because he’s so used to being pushed away, bullied and ridiculed. When he meets Aristiana and Rose, he’s struck by how neither of them make a big deal about how he looks. He’s accepted for the first time by his peers, which builds his confidence and self worth.

The highlight of the third act is when Paul meets two characters played by Chloë Sevigny and Stephen McKinley Henderson and it’s a shame they’re not introduced earlier in the film because they’re just so good and their characters so intriguing. It’s understandable where and when they show up in the story, but it’s unfortunate we couldn’t spend more time with them. Although “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” works its way to an unsatisfying conclusion, its still enjoyable enough without going into fantastical territory. It’s a story out to embrace themes of individual acceptance and the need for friendship in an uncomplicated manner and it does just that.


RATING: **1/2

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