It would seem that everything about The True Adventures of Wolfboy pretty much falls into place, meaning that Olivia Dufault’s screenplay certainly wastes no time establishing its formula. A boy searches for his estranged mother, and along the way, his concept of the outside world changes dramatically. The world is a place of danger, of temptation and, if one is lucky, of tremendous grace. Paul (Jaeden Martell), the boy at the center of this story, comes to understand these truths in director Martin Krejcí’s gentle, surprisingly touching movie that, thankfully, doesn’t stumble too heavily into the saccharine or sentimental arenas that it so easily could have.

On the top level of this story is the aspect that grounds it in harsh, necessary reality: Paul suffers from a disorder (whether it is genetic or hereditary is the mystery at the center of everything) that has caused the sebaceous glands on his face to overact. In other words, hair covers his visage, and as a result, he has further suffered the inevitable mockery from fellow young people. So, for that matter, has his father Denny (Chris Messina), who is semi-regularly asked by Paul’s bullies how he could have slept with a dog to have a kid like this. Paul is quite tired of all this trouble, wearing a ski mask in public to divert the attention from his furry features, and he really wants to meet his mother.

Mom left the family in Paul’s early childhood, before he was able to form any memories of her, and she’s Dad’s least favorite topic when Paul brings her up. The strain is simply too much, and so Paul concocts a mission for himself: to travel the distance to find his mother. While on this path, Paul encounters five characters who will somehow challenge or establish his view of the world. The first one is the most throwaway of the bunch, and thankfully Paul doesn’t spend much time in the care of Mr. Silk (John Turturro, hamming it up perhaps a little too much), a circus ringmaster whose name obviously telegraphs his less-than-virtuous intentions. He promises a life of peace for Paul, but then he employs the boy as an act.

Paul escapes this life and meets the next two formative characters. Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore, gently revealing layers at a slower pace than even the screenplay) is a young girl whose controlling, unsympathetic mother has inspired the need within her to become something of a nomad, if only she could break away. The desperate truth here is that Aristiana is a transgender teen in a closed world. Paul understands a little something about that strain, having to hide himself away from a world that has only pain to offer him, although at least he’s had the understanding of his own parent. Rose (Eve Hewson) is more enigmatic, with her distinctive eyepatch and chaotic energy.

The plot has Paul, Aristiana and Rose following the clues (a map and a note) left by a mysterious source whom Paul believes to be his mother, and eventually the fourth and fifth characters arrive. Though they are played by Chloë Sevigny and Stephen McKinley Henderson in a pair of performances that are quite effective at bringing Paul’s story to a close, outright revealing the identity of their characters would be a crime. Partly that’s because their place here is a genuine surprise, and it’s mostly because this is where Dufault follows through on the story’s promise.

Some of the film’s quirks are a little overwhelming. Dufault and Krejcí split the story up into chapters, the names of which pop up as title inserts and hint at the properties of the story that could be confused with a fantasy adventure. The movie is closer to a fable about the wider world and its dangers, revelations and slices of goodness. At the center of everything is Martell, whose performance is almost completely in the eyes. In other words, the young actor is quite good at bypassing the theatrics that could have come from material like this. The whole of The True Adventures of Wolfboy is much the same, and even if it falls into formula on occasion, it never really feels familiar.

Thankfully doesn’t stumble too heavily into the saccharine or sentimental arenas that it so easily could have.
70 %
Gentle and Touching
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