Raised by Movies: The Wolfpack

06/03/2015 7:48 AM |
photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

The Wolfpack
Directed by Crystal Moselle
Opens June 12

“I felt he overdid it,” says one of the six Angulo brothers, with remarkable diplomacy, about being confined to a Lower East Side apartment by their father for years. In Crystal Moselle’s disturbing-fascinating documentary, The Wolfpack, these polite, soft-spoken, long-haired kids describe their cloistered existence and the movie love that became a form of survival and sustenance. With homemade re-creation of scenes from Reservoir Dogs and a strategically gappy backstory, Moselle’s film encourages us to cheer on their pluckiness without really comprehending the full extent, or pain, of the familial weirdness underlying it.

Call it the anxiety of influence: The Wolfpack charts a headlong succession of creative visions, beginning with Daddy Angulo’s fanatical goal of raising a sprawling family befitting Hare Krishna belief, which his sons in turn follow with a devout, even desperate investment in movies. Evoking a visit to your third-grade friend with the weirdo parents, the Angulo siblings trickle out details regarding the family arrangement, which was made bearable due to home-schooling by their Midwest-born mother and the boys’ independent study of movies. Their public-housing apartment, in Moselle’s intimate interviews, comes to seem capacious, limited in square feet but unlimited in its inhabitants’ voracious imaginations; lo-fi home videos of the family horsing around together suggest private rituals and arcane subjugation.

What charms any flesh-and-blood moviegoer is the group’s unabashed zeal. Movies are reborn as folk art—like sheet music in a pre-recorded age—with brothers restaging and giving new life to films (preferably those with enough roles for all brothers to play). Another movie might have rendered the Angulos as outsider-artist oddballs, but, complicating tabloid views of pop-culture consumption, they’re self-aware, doting on their mother, and sensitive, the portrait complete with one elder sibling having his episodes of adolescent rebellion and breakdown.

An irony of the father’s paranoid scheme for controlling his sons’ lives is that the rampant film consumption he allowed opened up grander worlds than any walk down the street might have. The problem is that these worlds also didn’t prepare the Angulos for that walk, and the flip side to the pack’s cinephilia is a perhaps not fully plumbed legacy of isolation and repression.