The True Adventures of Wolfboy (2020) - Reviewed

Physical abnormalities have a long history with fantasy. In the mid-16th century, limited public knowledge of rare medical conditions gave birth to the popularity of the traveling freak show. Over the next few centuries, these attractions expanded to include amusement parks, circuses, dime museums and vaudeville. However, by the mid-20th century, increased public knowledge of the medicalization of these conditions ultimately ended the mysterious appeal for the freak show.

The True Adventures of Wolfboy plays on sideshow theme of abnormality as fantastical. Using a succession of illustrations to divide the film into a series of vignettes, the film sets out to portray thirteen-year-old Paul’s (Jaeden Martell) struggle with Hypertrichosis (or Werewolf Syndrome). In this coming-of-age adventure, each drawing depicts Paul as a mythical hero in a single frame similar to those given to freak show attendees as collectibles. These single frames provide the backbone for the film’s folkloric sideshow motif. 

The story begins with a forced birthday outing to the local carnival by Paul’s single father Denny (Chris Messina). Hoping to help his son overcome his shame, the excursion quickly turns into a traumatic bullying experience. After returning home, Paul finds a gift with a map from his absent mother and sets out to find her. Throughout his journey, Paul crosses the path of the carnival proprietor Mr. Silk (John Turturro), a transgender performance artist named Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), and Rose (Eve Hewson) a self-destructive homeless girl. Although the film places each of these characters in specific roles of the traditional hero’s journey, Aristiana as the mentor is the only relationship on which the film spends any significant time. Mr. Silk (the inner cave/ordeal) and Rose (crossing the threshold) are mostly explored through montage resulting in a large portion of the film feeling one-dimensional. 

The True Adventures of Wolfboy is also unfocused when it comes to Paul’s main struggle. Is it the absence of his mother? Is it his medical condition? Is Paul actively seeking to be a hero? The film touches on all three without connecting them together leaving the viewer to feel groundless and ultimately unfulfilled at the climax. This is especially disappointing when it comes to Turturro due to his excellent performance. Unfortunately, a great actor cannot save a mediocre script. The only thing saving this film form complete disaster is the chemistry between Sophie Giannamore and Jaeden Martell. Their connection is warm and authentic and their shared pain is like the single stake holding back a tent in a windstorm. 

Even with its good intentions, The True Adventures of Wolfboy is an example of how beautiful art and great actors cannot save a mediocre, corner-cutting script. An additional thirty minutes of character development would have gone a long way to providing the audience with the fantastic journey the film set out to be. 

-Dawn Stronski