For me, documentaries are tough to review. If they deal with an important subject matter in an intelligent manner, then it would stand to reason that one should recommend it, but if the documentary wasn’t entertaining and instead stiff, then would I really recommend it? For me, documentaries need to have both an interesting subject and be told in an interesting manner. Just because a documentary discusses something “important” or “news-worthy” doesn’t make it a good movie. It still needs to be well-made and engaging. Which is why I enjoyed and recommend “The Wolfpack”, a documentary by Crystal Moselle about the Anguso family living in an lower east side Manhattan apartment, most of the time locked away by their abusive father surviving off the magic of film.
Like many of us, the Anguso brothers use films to escape their strange reality. They are only allowed to go outside a few times a year, on strictly supervised trips, and during one year they never left their apartment. The film introduces each of the seven children and the two parents, mostly interviewing the mother and the four oldest sons. Many of the children are young teenagers and the sole sister is mentally handicapped, so the focus and stories about the family’s history is wisely told through the five people most affected by the family’s patriarch.
The documentary quickly introduces us to this unusual family and their life and love for films while slowly revealing the life made by their father and the reasoning behind their isolated world. These boys didn’t know how to socialize with other people, they didn’t have friends growing up, their mother felt more trapped by the rules and miniature society their father created in their poor four bedroom apartment (I am still amazed by the access and interviews the director received to actually film so much in the apartment). I don’t want to spoil the film too much because part of my enjoyment came in learning why the boys are who they are and, as one brother states in the trailer, why they are no longer prisoners.
The real drawing power of the film, for me, was the brothers’ strong love of movies. The tight-knit brothers owned over a thousand movies on VHS and DVD and even recreated entire feature length movies in their apartment, using thrown together costumes and cardboard props, similar to what my friends and I did growing up. The movies gave them an escape route. Films gave access to the world they could not experience. Films gave them entertainment and an escape from loneliness. It gave them their sanity. Their bond with each other and the movies they watched collectively made the time go by and allowed them to view the world in an unique light.
The Wolfpack displays the power of movies and family in an interesting fashion. The documentary does not interview anyone from the outside world, such as social workers and psychologists, and focuses solely on the family and the evolution and rebellion in their lives. The Wolfpack is an intriguing documentary. It could delve more into the psychological issues of the father and I understand some of the criticisms thrown towards the documentary of only relying on the testimonials of the family and no one outside to corroborate some of this urban fable, but then the film would lose its intimacy and bond with the brothers. I recommend The Wolfpack to anyone who enjoys larger than life or true but strange tales. And I highly recommend The Wolfpack as a love letter to those who relish and love cinema as much as the Anguso brothers do.