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Movie review: ‘Wolfboy’ presents an odd, magical mystery trip about families

Ed Symkus
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Paul (Jaeden Martell) and Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore) wonder what's beyond the fence.

Today’s topic is hypertrichosis, a condition that causes excessive hair growth all over the body. The common term for it is werewolf syndrome. Paul (Jaeden Martell), who is about to turn 13, was born with hypertrichosis. Living with his dad in a run-down apartment in upstate New York, Paul is not a happy camper, and usually wears a stocking hat mask, hoping it will stop people from staring or commenting.

But there’s no wondering about what he looks like under there. The opening shot of the film has him maskless, staring straight into the camera (or more likely, he’s looking in a mirror), sadly and with exasperation saying, “I’m normal. I’m a regular kid. I’m just like everyone else. I’ll be strong.”

Lest you think this is the start of a depressing 88-minute movie, no, it’s anything but. “The True Adventures of Wolfboy” is a coming-of-age story, and a thoughtful, very offbeat fable or fantasy, but one that’s set in reality. It addresses self-acceptance, the challenges of coping with being “different,” and the difficulties of making personal decisions that will affect others. It’s also magical, very funny and a true original.

The story is told in chapters, each one starting with a brightly and busily illustrated page that could come right out of an old children’s book. Among them are: “The Dragon’s Dilemma,” “Wolfboy Deals with the Devil,” and “Wolfboy and the Pirate Queen.”

Upon meeting Paul and his dad Denny (Chris Messina), it’s hard to figure out who is more down - Paul because of his affliction or Denny because, as a single parent, he’s at the end of his rope trying to keep some normalcy in his son’s life. They’re close, but provoked by a senseless argument between them, Paul runs away, with hopes of getting back together with the mother who left the family years ago, and might be in Pennsylvania.

Yes, this is also a road movie.

First stop is a carnival that Paul had visited - and had a bad time at - with dad. It’s there that he meets the owner, Mr. Silk (John Turturro), a soft-spoken, graceful man with an air of mystery - perhaps menace - about him, and a burning curiosity to see what’s under Paul’s mask. He’s a businessman and, upon seeing his face, his immediate, quietly ecstatic response is, “Well, that is some kind of beautiful. I think we should talk.” A job is offered, but things go badly, and Paul is not just on the road, he’s on the run.

It’s here that the film’s cast of characters starts to ramp up. Paul meets Aristiana (Sophie Giannamore), referred to at one point as “a confused kid.” Aristiana introduces him to red-haired, eye-patch-wearing Rose (Eve Hewson), who is the film’s shining wild card. Denny is contacted by Detective Pollok (Michelle Wilson), who is assigned to find his runaway son. Everything is soon ordered into a jumping around between Paul, Aristiana and Rose driving in Rose’s van to Pennsylvania; Detective Pollok hot on their trail; sad Denny still at home in worry mode; and Mr. Silk, tooling along in his big red Lincoln Continental, determined to find Paul because of what went down at the carnival.

Other components include the constant discussion going on in Paul’s head, made up of questions he would ask his mom if he ever finds her; a string of armed robberies committed by crazy Rose; Paul’s eventual realization that for the first time in his life, he’s having fun; and some revelations near the end that you will not see coming.

This is a very odd movie. It plays out like a jumbled dream, with brief excursions into near-nightmare territory. Some parts are fully explained, while others remain hazy. But that’s fine, because it’s the positive ideas, not necessarily the story, that matter here. One more good thing: It’s an adult movie that’s fine to watch with your kids (age 10 and up).

“The True Adventures of Wolfboy” premieres digitally and On Demand on Oct. 30.

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“The True Adventures of Wolfboy”

Written by Olivia Dufault; directed by Martin Krejci

With Jaeden Martell, Sophie Giannamore, Eve Hewson, John Turturro, Chris Messina

Rated PG-13