Wolfpack, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/22/15 10:53:50

"For and about movie-lovers, and missing much else."
3 stars (Just Average)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2015: I suspect that film fans are going to talk "The Wolfpack" up more than it truly merits; the only thing we like more than an amazing story is meeting folks who love movies as much as we do, and there's no denying that this movie has both. The thing is, while "meeting" the Angulo brothers certainly makes one want to like the movie, I wonder how much it will hide the film's flaws to those who aren't the same sort of fanatics.

When director Crystal Moselle met the half-dozen brothers, they lived in a small New York apartment with their parents, home-schooled, almost never leaving the building. In many ways, their only connection to the outside world is through movies, which they love, devour, and meticulously recreate. They spend hours transcribing the dialog, building cardboard props, and putting together costumes, all within the confines of just a few rooms - but what happens when one finally gets the courage to go outside?

The first movie we see the boys recreating, right at the start, is Reservoir Dogs, and it's kind of interesting that Moselle starts with them re-enacting a Tarantino movie - as much as he's an extremely talented director, he is also famous for constructing his films from other bits of pop culture rather than creating things from whole cloth. Is there some significance to the fact that much of the first thing we're seeing is in some ways a copy of a copy?

Apparently not, and that struck me as fairly unfortunate. It's cool that these guys love movies, but for much of The Wolfpack, they come off as a very specific sort of fan, the kind that memorizes and re-creates and quotes ad nauseum but doesn't do a lot more. It's a strong but surface-level fandom, but it's not the kind that progresses, and while it's great to be impressed by their ingenuity and determination, there's something a bit sad about the constant stream of mere imitation. Or at least, there really should be; these moments are so often presented as "isn't them loving the same thing we do so much cool?" that, when they start to be called upon to express themselves through art toward the end, there's no feel one way or another for whether they can do this. It drains the drama and interest out of what should be an exciting, pivotal moment, like the filmmakers didn't recognize there's a difference between mimicry and creation.

Of course, one has to give the makers of a documentary like this a certain amount of leeway - they have access to the footage they have access to, and piece it together the best they can. Maybe they didn't capture that progression, or thought it wouldn't have come together well on-screen, or had other reasons for not showing things that might have made the movie more interesting. Moselle often seems to be throwing together the best material she has and feels comfortable using, which is sometimes frustrating: The boys don't really come across as individuals as presented (one can easily lose track of just how many there are), and it often seems like more dramatic parts of the story are on the periphery, like the messes that are their parents, or what it must be like for the sister of the group. There's a lot of people referring to "the things that happened", keeping what might be interesting at arm's length.

Still, maybe dinging The Wolfpack for not being all those things is missing the point. Narrow the idea of the movie down to the Angulo brothers being a unique group of people that Moselle is documenting and sharing before the outside world completely absorbs them and smooths out what makes them unique, and there's no way to say she doesn't succeed. The brothers are really a joy to watch and spend time with, a friendly and tight-knit group that never developed the same sort of cynicism or competitiveness other teenage boys do. And even if recreations aren't your thing, it's hard to deny that the boys' enthusiasm and resourcefulness in doing them is fun to see.

That part is enjoyable enough that it's not hard to be enthusiastic one's self, especially since most of the audience for this movie will see the Angulos as kindred spirits despite their peculiar upbringing. It's just that the film so often dangles interesting stories that may or may not happen off-screen in front of the audience before going back to what it was doing, and it's not hard to wish it either included those bits or didn't let the audience know what it was missing.

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