“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” is “Teen Wolf” with some edge, a wistful fable that tends towards the melancholy.
It’s not about THE wolfman of myth. There are no farmers with torches and pitchforks, no midnight howling at the full moon. There’s just a lonely, scrawny bullied kid trying to find out who and what he is, longing for the mother he never knew.
Jaden Martell of “St. Vincent” is Paul, who starts in the bathroom mirror muttering his mantra — “I’m normal. I’m just a regular kid. I’m just like everyone else.”
The first clever twist in this tale from a screenwriter for “Legion” and a Czech making his feature directing debut is what it doesn’t show. Yes, Paul is bullied when his Dad (Chris Messina) takes him to the carnival. Yes, this “safe, inclusive” private school Dad enters him in might improve his quality of life. But we never see that.
We just meet the thirteen year-olds who taunt his father with the observation that he must’ve had sex with a dog. Dad’s at a loss for life advice for his “special” boy. “Show some dignity.” And whatever you do, “Paul, don’t run.”
But Paul does, and with his crested private school uniform jacket on. Thus begin his “true adventures.”
John Turturro is the carnival operator who seems sympathetic — at first. “That is…some kind of beautiful” he says when the kid removes the stocking-mask he wears to hide the fur. But Mr. Silk has an eye for the main chance, a billing — “The Dangerous DOG BOY” — and a promise. He’ll help the kid get to Pennsylvania, where a mysterious birthday present originated, if the boy will join the show.
The present? It’s a map, with an inscription, “When you’re ready, there is an explanation.”
But the carnival’s not the story they’re telling, either. Paul flees that as well, and not without revealing something a lot of unhappy 13 year-olds dabble in.
The next “chapter” in his adventure is “Wolfboy Meets Mermaid.” He falls in with teen dancer/lip-synch performer Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore of “Transparent”)) and sees her bubble act at a sort of Island of Misfit Toys bar-nightclub. He’s just met her and not-quite-addressed why her mother calls her “Kevin,” when Aristiana’s pink-haired, eyepatch-wearing pal Rose (Eve Hewson of “The Nick” and “Tesla” ) abruptly picks them up in her ancient van for that trek to Pennsylvnia.
Gas money? No worries. Lemme borrow that MASK. The quest has wheels, for a while, and armed robbery. Now there are cops and the carnie-wronged Mr. Silk after him, to say nothing of Paul’s Dad.
The parable here is heavy-handed and a little haphazard. It’s about the kids “who don’t fit in,” basically “The Greatest Showman” without songs or Hugh Jackman. Characters and means-to-an-end are introduced and dispensed with before we can commit to them.
Any one of these quest-threads — “transitory entertainment business” (carnival) convenience store hold-ups, “underworld” of gay or “special” young people — would have made for a more succint, if far more conventional movie.
Martell is quite good at this “lonely, disturbed boy” thing, as he proved in “Defending Jacob,” “The Book of Henry” and “St. Vincent.” Messina is sympathetic, Giannamore has hints of a spitfire and Hewson’s Rose is devil-may-care far beyond the pink hair and eye patch supercials.
The resolution isn’t as picaresque as the movie that precedes it, but good actors are brought in for that, too.
All of which makes for a movie that lopes along, introduces characters which make an impression or two, and then kind of fizzes away in the finale.
This “Wolfboy’s” adventures leave a sweet aftertaste, even if we realize it isn’t exactly a meal, or even a full portion of dessert, when we think about it.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic content, drinking, some strong language, sexual references and violence – all involving teens.
Cast: Jaeden Martell, Chris Messina, Sophie Giannamore, Eve Hewson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Chloe Sevigny and John Turturro
Credits: Directed by Martin Krejcí, script by Olivia Dufault. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:28