The Adventures of Wolfboy review – charm and vulnerability in magical realism fable

There are lovely performances in this teen drama tackling dysphoria, that a kid wrestling with their identity will treasure

Broken into arch chapter headings that are introduced with intricate, stylised illustrations like something out of a book of fairytales for Gen Z and millennial misfits, this fey, magical realism fable is an interesting mixture of winning charm, smug knowingness and vulnerability. The screenwriter (Olivia Dufault), one of the young co-stars (Sophie Giannamore from Transparent) and the character she plays are all transgender, and the film is at its best when it is working through issues around dysphoria through the lens of allegory.

That feeling of not being at ease in your own body is at the heart of this story about a 13-year-old named Paul (Jaeden Martell, heartbreakingly expressive even under a ton of prosthetics and fake hair) who has a condition that causes him to grow lustrous golden-red fur all over his body, including his face. Teased by peers at school, and already dealing with major abandonment issues after his mother ran off when he was little, he can’t even count on his well-meaning but clueless dad (Chris Messina) to do the right thing. One day Paul runs off to find his mother in that mythical land known as Pennsylvania. Along the way, he briefly becomes a freak show attraction at a carnival run by the menacing if mesmerising Mr Silk (John Turturro, going over the top, round the outside and up from underneath with an outrageously hammy performance); and then falls in love with a beautiful singer around his own age named Aristiana (Giannamore), whose dreary mother insists on calling her by her dead name “Kevin”.

First time director Martin Krejci draws lovely performances from his cast, and the whole thing looks dreamy and splendid thanks to Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography – but the last act could have done with some serious workshopping to smooth out the motivational kinks and deflationary resolution. Still, it might be the kind of film a kid wrestling with their identity will treasure forever, flaws and all.

• The Adventures of Wolfboy is released on 15 March on digital platforms.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 50 best films of 2020 in the UK, No 6: Rocks
This fun, vibrant drama about a young girl thrust into adulthood – led by a supercharged non-professional cast – bursts from the screen with creativity and passion

Peter Bradshaw

11, Dec, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Babyteeth review – teen illness drama earns its emotional impact
Eliza Scanlen and Ben Mendelsohn lead a terrific ensemble cast in Shannon Murphy’s classy debut about an unlikely high-school romance

Peter Bradshaw

12, Aug, 2020 @9:20 AM

Article image
Ava review – smart family thriller amps up the micro-tensions | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week
Sadaf Foroughi turns the family drama trope on its head in this superb story of a girl in Iran at war with her mother

Peter Bradshaw

19, Aug, 2020 @11:00 AM

Article image
Slalom review – abuse on the slopes in tense teen ski prodigy drama | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week
A French teen ski champion navigates sexual exploitation by her male coach in Charlène Favier’s difficult but impressive debut

Peter Bradshaw

09, Feb, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Imperial Blue review – Ugandan adventures of a drug-smuggling dope
A dealer who dreams of discovering the source of a mystical substance that lets you see the future heads deep into Africa

Ellen E Jones

13, Jan, 2021 @11:00 AM

Article image
Winter Flies review – teen tearaways ride their luck with a smile
Olmo Omerzu steers this Czech road movie gently, teasing wonderfully natural performances from his young leads

Phil Hoad

01, Feb, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Rūrangi review – stirring story of a trans man’s homecoming
Drama about a trans activist’s return to the small New Zealand town he fled as a teenager is straightforwardly told, but with great warmth and optimism

Cath Clarke

21, Feb, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
Port Authority review – a heartfelt and sensual trans love story
Fresh off the bus in New York, a young man struggles with his attractions to a transgender dancer and the city’s flamboyant kiki ballroom scene

Peter Bradshaw

18, May, 2019 @7:20 PM

Article image
Joyland review – subtle trans drama from Pakistan is remarkable debut
Saim Sadiq’s film explores the unsettled social and sexual identities of a widower and his children with delicacy and tenderness

Peter Bradshaw

22, Feb, 2023 @9:00 AM

Article image
Girl review – trans teenager dreams of a dancer's life | Peter Bradshaw's film of the week
Victor Polster is outstanding as a trans 15-year-old auditioning for ballet school in Lukas Dhont’s intense, emotional drama

Peter Bradshaw

13, Mar, 2019 @12:00 PM