“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” (Vertical Entertainment), the feature-length directorial debut of Martin Krejcí is a trans parable about self-acceptance and finding community.
The screenplay by trans writer Olivia Dufault unfolds in six chapters and is told as if it was a Y/A novel (it wasn’t), complete with being divided into six chapters.
“Wolfboy” opens with 13-year-old Paul (Jaeden Martell, whom you may recognize from “St. Vincent,” “It,” and “Knives Out”) repeating to himself, “I’m normal. I’m a regular kid.” Paul, who has hypertrichosis (“an abnormal amount of hair growth over the body”), is reluctantly going to a carnival with his father Denny (Chris Messina) to celebrate his birthday. Paul insists on wearing a ski mask and a hoodie, a defense mechanism to shield himself and the ignorant townspeople where he lives in upstate New York. Denny is the worst kind of hapless father. Filling his son’s head with the wrong words of encouragement, although he is doing the best that he is able. Denny’s idea of an appropriate birthday gift for Paul is a pocket-knife.
Back home, after a traumatic experience at the carnival, Paul discovers another gift that is supposedly from his mother who abandoned him and Denny after he was born. In the box is a map with a message about meeting her, written in red ink, including an address. After an argument with Denny, Paul runs away to find his mother.
Along the way, he makes the first of his stops on his odyssey, at the carnival grounds. There he encounters Mr. Silk (John Turturro, devouring scenery even when he isn’t speaking) who offers him a chance to make some money as part of the sideshow. This is the next in a series of events that goes badly for Paul, resulting in an act of arson.
On the lam, with both Silk and police detective Pollok (Michelle Wilson) on his trail, Paul spends the night in a backyard doghouse (a little too on the nose, shall we say). There he meets Aristiana (captivating trans actress Sophie Giannamore), rehearsing her number for a performance at a club later that evening. They get off to a bad start, but soon discover that they have more in common than they realize.
After being discovered together by Aristiana’s mother (Melissa Mandisa), who insists on still calling her by her dead name, they take off and enlist Rose (Eve Hewson) for their getaway. Rose talks a good game, but she’s just as down on her luck as Paul and Aristiana, essentially living in her van. But she also brings an additional level of excitement to the young duo’s lives with her knack for holding up gas stations and convenience stores.
This part of the adventure doesn’t last long and the police are closing in on them. As is Silk, who ultimately corners Paul at the Pennsylvania location that isn’t at all what he expected. Let’s just say Paul’s pocket-knife comes in handy.
The police arrive. Paul is reunited with his father. Then comes the long-awaited reunion with his mother Jen (an exceptionally lowkey Chloë Sevigny), who, as it turns out, wasn’t in Pennsylvania at all, but living across town from Paul and Denny with her own father. It is there that everything is revealed to Paul (and the audience), including the following message about being different: “The world’s going to be mean to us no matter what we do. We can’t afford to be mean to ourselves.”
The real saving grace of “Wolfboy” are the performances by the young leads. Martell is so compelling that the adults in every scene simply fade into the background. Watch his eyes; because they reveal so much more than what is written in Dufault’s script. It’s hard to imagine that, in the hands (or paws) of another actor, Paul’s humanity would have been as fully realized. Giannamore is also marvelous, imbuing her character with poise and light.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.