Audiences sure do love an outcast, especially teenage ones. Growing up on the silver screen has helped viewers do the same, but it takes a lot to get portrayal of teenage troubles just right, something that director Martin Krejcí and his star struggle with for the most part. Outside of Knives Out, Jaeden Martell has nailed the skill of playing a kid uncomfortable in his own skin, so it comes as no surprise that being one covered in hair isn’t that much of a stretch.
In Martin Krejcí’s The True Adventures of Wolfboy, Martell’s quiet, yet painfully angst-ridden protagonist suffers from the rare condition of congenital hypertrichosis, meaning that his entire face and body are covered in hair. Earlier this year, it was used as a punchline in a joke for the Borat sequel, here it’s a glimpse into what this life would consist of, where his dedicated Dad has lint rollers on standby around the house and public places are nightmarish ordeals. Bullied by the locals who stamp him with the moniker of ‘Hairy Potter’ and ‘dog-face’, his only refuge is at home, where he remains distant from his own father who is trying desperately to help his son into the world he fears. It’s only on his 13th birthday, that this lost soul finds a glimmer of hope, after receiving a gift from his mother who had abandoned him at a young age. Pulling on the face mask and flying the nest, Paul runs off into the big wide world in search of her, hoping to find out why he is the way he is and what drove her away when he needed her the most.
So begins a road trip with a unique protagonist at its centre but with familiar teen movie traits wrapped around him. Settling somewhere between The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Mighty and Pinocchio, Paul encounters an eclectic bunch of characters that each show him a different perspective on what it really is to feel like an outcast, all intercut with fairytale chapter titles and stunning artwork. It’s a viewpoint that is often handled with care but here feels slightly unbalanced, not for the cast involved but the characters they inhabit. Starting with Martell in particular, we get somewhat standard portrayal of a character that is anything but. Paul is a boiling pot of rage and understandably so; swimming in self-loathing and withheld emotion that never really surfaces, instead it echoes his turn in both the IT films and Apple TV+’s Becoming Jacob, only with extensive make-up. It’s clear he wants to get mad or be happy with himself, but even those brief moments aren’t rewarding enough to make you really care if he does or not.
Those that speak up for our hero when he can’t quite manage to are actually far more interesting, with the likes of Sophie Giannamore and Eve Hewson as care-free spirits that chip away at Paul’s shell, but ultimately have more exciting stories of their own. Both making questionable choices that somewhat detract from being characters you can fully warm to, they’re still both charismatic additions that the film and Paul desperately need. The same can be said of John Turturro as circus owner Mr Silk, who has a vendetta against our hero making for welcome friction that ultimately flounders throughout. It’s only in the third act of Paul’s story that the necessary dose of reality and resolution is applied to help the film out of the lurch it finds itself in for the majority.
While Krejcí’s coming-of-age tale moves along at a steady and annoyingly safe pace, it gets a harsh and gut-wrenching third act with a redeeming punch that it needed from the off. Pulling off a moment you may not see coming, it also allows Martell and his on-screen Dad Chris Messina to share in moments that The True Adventures of Wolfboy is desperate for, and an additional brief appearance from Stephen McKinley that makes this rather placid picture all worth while. Ultimately, it’s by not spending enough time in Paul’s harsh reality, that makes the journey of self-discovery nowhere near as rewarding and makes The True Adventures of Wolfboy far tamer than it should be.