For the first few minutes, The True Adventures of Wolfboy looks like it's going to be a somber drama about a boy with Hypertrichosis, a disorder that causes people to grow excess hair on their face and body. Then the kid runs away from home and the movie suddenly reveals that it's actually a fairy tale, complete with fantastical events and a larger-than-life villain. The transition is a little jarring. Once you accept the direction the story will take, you discover a cool little picture about how our hero goes from being insecure to becoming empowered.
Jaeden Martell (IT: Chapter One and Chapter Two) is Paul, the teen afflicted with the disorder. His father Denny (Chris Messina) tries to teach him confidence by having him take off his security mask in public so he can learn to stand with dignity if others make fun of him. That approach doesn't pan out, leading Paul to run away. He ends up at a traveling carnival that's in town, where the owner, Mr. Silk (John Turturro), wants to turn him into a sideshow freak. Paul runs away from him, too, but not before doing something that makes Silk determined to track him down.
The journey also has Paul crossing paths with a young “mermaid” named Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore) and “pirate” Rose (Tesla's Eve Hewson, once again stealing every scene she's in). Chloe Sevigny co-stars as Paul's mother, who ran out on him as a baby and whom he now seeks to find.
Each new stop on Paul's trek brings with it some kind of important adventure, including a little armed robbery. From Aristiana, he learns that he isn't the only one who's different. From Rose, he learns to overcome fear. And from Silk, he learns that there will always be people out there looking to take advantage of others. Director Martin Krejci, working from a screenplay by Olivia Dufault, separates each “chapter” of the story with an animated title card signifying that a new experience awaits Paul. The technique is appropriate, helping to convey the storybook tone.
Touching work from Jaeden Martell pulls everything together. He turns Paul into a sympathetic figure, even when occasionally doing things we wouldn't typically condone. His scenes with Giannamore have a tender quality (for reasons I won't spoil) that makes their friendship touching. Turturro, for his part, gleefully chews the scenery as the villain. They, together with Hewson, are responsible for the fantasy elements. Messina and Sevigny are required to ground the story in some semblance of reality, which they do quite nicely.
The True Adventures of Wolfboy doesn't say anything groundbreaking about being different, yet it relates a fundamental truth -- that when people who are considered outcasts band together, none of them are outcasts anymore – in a manner that's good-natured, often humorous, and always entertaining.
out of four
The True Adventures of Wolfboy is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, drinking, some strong language, sexual references and violence - all involving teens. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.