The True Adventures of Wolf Boy is a magical coming-of-age story that is sure to please. The film centers around 13-year-old boy named Paul (Jaeden Martell; It, Midnight Special, Knives Out, St. Vincent) who suffers from congenital hypertrichosis – a medical condition that causes hair to grow all over his face and body. He is raised by his single father Denny (always happy to see Chris Messina from Mindy Project & Sharp Objects) a big-hearted garbage man who does his best to prepare his son for the cruelty of the outside world which we get to witness firsthand when the two visit a local carnival.
Paul is chased by older teenage boys who mock and taunt him that his father fucked a dog and that’s why he looks like the wolfman. The standard bullying straight out of an 80’s movie seemed a little too convenient for the story to highlight Paul’s struggle but thankfully the story and the film are anything but conventional. On his birthday, as a gift, Paul receives a mysterious letter from his mother (who he has never met and who his father refuses to talk about) that includes a map to Philadelphia where she supposedly lives. He runs away to meet her and that’s where the story really begins.
Written by Olivia Dufault, whose main credits include Preacher & Legion – two innovative shows I highly recommend – the script doesn’t spend much time on each scene or segment yet never feels rushed; new characters and sets are introduced and before we can guess where the story is heading we are quickly whisked away to the next delightful scene. Each segment, or chapter, is presented with an elaborately illustrated title screen that would feel at home in a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale book or painted on the side of a carnival wagon. They have their own vibe and genre: a love story, crime story, coming-of-age drama – it is more like reading a novel than watching a standard feature film.
We get to meet a fabulously dressed John Turturo as Mr. Silk, the sleazy carnival owner who exploits Paul’s medical condition as a “freakshow.” Next, we find Paul sleeping in a dog house on the lawn of Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore; Transparent) as he wakes to an ethereal performance while she sings from a kiddie pool amongst sheets fluttering in the wind and floating soap bubbles. Aristiana becomes Paul’s travel companion, guide & sort of love interest.
Their friendship is the real backbone of the story as we discover that she has family problems of her own and, like Paul, searches for her place in the world. It’s through Aristiana that we meet many more lively characters like Rose (Eve Hewson; Robin Hood, Bridge of Spies) the one-eyed, Pink-haired bandit who sweeps the couple along on her crime spree, and her cohorts who frequent a speak-easy for cosplay witches, mermaids, and monsters where Aristiana performs the song Paul caught her practicing earlier in the film.
First-time Feature Director Martin Krejci integrates lots of style, weaving in opportunities for slow motion, musical montages & voice over but doesn’t let it swallow the substance and the heart of the film. His greatest achievement is using the setting of rural and suburban Upstate New York, with its giant grain silos, decommissioned lighthouses, and decaying overpasses to dominate the frame, forcing the houses and characters to feel small and precious, like a post-modern fairy tale.
The production design by Aaron Osborne does so much with very little, making the rundown, weathered rust belt towns feel full of atmosphere, mystery, and magic. Which is fitting, because there is magic in these little towns. It is found in the outcast kids who search for themselves and their place in society; the weirdos who dream of a more colorful reality, and if they are lucky enough and wild enough, grow beyond their restrictive circumstances to create those beautiful worlds. And, if we’re lucky, maybe those outcasts will write a heartfelt movie that captures that expressive spirit. A film like Wolf Boy allows us to leave behind the cynicism we accept when taking on the mantle of adulthood and to unpack our childhood wonder once again.
The True Adventures of Wolf Boy is now available On Demand & on Digital
The True Adventures of Wolf Boy is an unconventional indie coming-of-age story that transforms upstate NY into a magical land of misfits and miscreants.