Review: Lessons of self-acceptance in 'The True Adventures of Wolfboy'

Michael Ordoña
·2 min read
Jaeden Martell plays an unusual young teen in "The True Adventures of Wolfboy."
Jaeden Martell plays an unusual teen in "The True Adventures of Wolfboy." (Seacia Pavao)

"The True Adventures of Wolfboy" is about a young person seeking his place in the world. Because the boy looks like a creature out of folklore, it makes sense that the film is framed as a fairy tale in chapters. But beyond those bells and whistles, it's a gentle indie about finding your tribe, finding a real friend and how crucial that can be.

The boy, Paul, suffers from hypertrichosis, or "werewolf syndrome," which is a thing. Paul (Jaeden Martell) is being raised by his loving waste-collector dad (Chris Messina) and suffering the slings and arrows of brutal youth on a daily basis. Well-meaning Dad is struggling to help his son cope with his condition and accept himself.

"I don't want to meet people like me," says Paul when Dad suggests he attend a school for kids with conditions of their own.

"Why not," asks Dad.

"Because I hate me."

The pain in Messina's body upon hearing that will be felt by any parent who has labored to make their kid see his or her own beauty.

The film follows Paul as he sets out on a quest to finally meet his mother after receiving a mysterious package that may lead him to her. Following the conceit of a tall tale set in a mundane, contemporary world, he meets unusual people along the way, dubbed in the storybook's parlance "The Devil" (John Turturro), "The Mermaid" (Sophie Giannamore as Aristiana) and "The Pirate Queen" (Eve Hewson). The adventures start small and skirt the edges of believability within the world of the film, but hey, this is a kind of modern folklore, a little hero's journey. Cut it some fact-checking slack.

The cast delivers. Turturro (an executive producer on the film) and Hewson enjoy themselves. Messina, a good actor for a long time, is solid and feeling. As Aristiana, 17-year-old Giannamore is charming and complex in a memorable performance.

"Wolfboy" is a compassionate film with some insight into being different and into the destructiveness of letting the world's unkindness shape one's self view. Even if that cruelty comes from adolescents or others with obvious problems themselves, the pain it causes is stamped on Paul and on the film. To its credit, though the movie presents itself as a fairy tale, it offers no deus ex machina, just a sincere promise that "It gets better."

"The world's gonna be mean to us no matter what we do," says a character who would know, "so we can't afford to be mean to ourselves."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.