director Crystal Moselle
Sometimes a documentary can be worthwhile just based on its subject matter alone. Some stories are just fascinating. Some subjects, people, are wildly compelling.
Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack has caught some flak for aspects of influencing her subjects, of not constructing a cohesive whole, or not asking enough of the tougher questions, leaving some glaring holes in the story.’
Moselle stumbled on her subjects while she was a student in NYC, six brothers who rambled the city together, ranging in age from something like 11-18 years old, all with really, really long hair and often with dark sunglasses. She introduced herself to them and they took and interest in her because of her connection to filmmaking. How soon she realized that she had uncovered a fascinating story of a wonderful gang of siblings with the strangest backstory…who knows?
Mukunda, Narayana, Govinda, Bhagavan, Krisna, and Jagadesh Angulo had lived a radically sheltered life growing up in America’s largest polyglot city. The boys and their one sister were literally shut-in by their radically eccentric if not totally insane and abusive father and their meek mother who home-schooled them. They rarely left the apartment, at one point not even once in a year. They were taught to fear the outside world and they came to know the world only through the movies that their father brought home on VHS and DVD. They would come to re-enact scenes in elaborate play.
And eventually they stood up to their father and started to explore the world. That i how Moselle met them.
The film was shot over 4 years as the boys and their family started opening up to the world, with the boys eventually getting jobs, girlfriends, even moving out, actually making movies, and going to the cinema for the first time.
The story is pretty amazing in itself, but it’s the Angulo boys themselves that are utterly compelling. At times the boys blur together in their looks and attitudes, other times becoming more distinct, but they are such intelligent and sensitive, creative beings, somehow transcending their bizarre childhoods and just BEING. You can’t help but hope the most for them, that they can normalize and achieve whatever goals and dreams they cultivate. And they seem to be doing so to some extent in the film and the wake of the film’s success at Sundance this year.
I won’t speculate on Moselle’s shortcomings or the film’s potential weaknesses. The story and the boys are amazing. And their highly studied impersonations of John Travolta or Heath Ledger’s Joker are so incredible.
There is an underlying darkness, not fully explored, hefting weight throughout.