Friday, March 18, 2016

"The Wolfpack": The Kids Are Alright

Now Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix

The Wolfpack is one of those documentaries where the central premise sounds much more interesting and engaging than the final product ultimately ends up becoming.  This isn’t because of any flaws in the production or an inability of the subjects to meet expectations, but there is a certain amount of narrative intrigue that was lacking in The Wolfpack in order to make the film feel like a complete package.  The final result ends up feeling like it doesn’t have any of the closure it so desperately needs, leaving the viewer unsatisfied with a very personal story.

The eponymous wolfpack is six teenage boys who were kept in isolation in their New York apartment by their father, almost never having been exposed to the actual outside world as their mother homeschooled them.  Their only sense of community came from each other and their shared love of movies, of which the family owns approximately five thousand according to one boy’s estimate.  Not having anything else to do by way of hobbies, the teens set out to make reenactments of their favorites, of which we get to see their renditions of The Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs.

Documentarian Crystal Moselle enters the picture shortly after the boys have begun to violate their father’s edict to not interact with the outside world, which to their surprise is met with apathy.  Watching these unsocialized kids make their way in the outside world for the first time on their own is incredibly interesting, as they only have one another to rely on, all of them just as clueless as the other.  And yet, they still are pretty normal teenagers, self-deprecating and perhaps a bit too reliant on movie quotes to fill in the gaps of conversation.  Seeing how their unique circumstances have resulted in a bizarre sort of normalcy is simply fascinating.

However, where Moselle goes wrong is in not really knowing how to end her film.  She shows a brief montage of events at the end to hint that the brothers are beginning to branch off into their own identities, with one actually moving out into his own apartment, but there isn’t any sense of closure to it, only a sense that there are new challenges to tackle.  She doesn’t even come to a solid conclusion about the boys’ father, who seemingly only wants to keep his children safe from the corrupting influences of the politicized modern world, yet is an apparent alcoholic with abusive control issues.  It makes the ending feel hollow with too many unanswered questions.  Moselle should have kept the camera rolling for another month or two in order to provide us with an epilogue that the troubled beginning of their social lives desperately needs.

All in all, though, The Wolfpack is an interesting look into the lives of some teenagers coming from some bizarre circumstances into their own form of adulthood.  The daunting feeling that their story isn’t over yet is inescapable in the film’s final moments, but as unsatisfying as that is, the way these kids see the world with fresh eyes is definitely satisfying in the moments you see it.  As long as you don’t hold your breath to see if the kids end up alright, The Wolfpack is an interesting glimpse into how they seem to be pretty alright for now.

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