Michael Morrissey's BOY WONDER (2010) is the most riveting film that I have seen since Danny Boyle's TRAINSPOTTING (1996).
With a cast headed by the immensely likeable Caleb Steinmeyer as the film's protagonist Sean Donovan, BOY WONDER is an engrossing tale of a young man who witnesses his abused mother's murder as a boy and is dead-set on finding her killer regardless of the cost. The film's title might trip up some people into believing that it is somehow affiliated with Batman or Burt Ward, but this clearly is not the case. It is not a comic book film, though it moves and is visualized like a terrific graphic novel. BOY WONDER has a style that is self-assured, dialogue that rings true, and ultimately raw and powerful emotion.
Sean's mother is played in flashback by Tracy Middendorf who is no stranger to taking on the roles of abused women. She was featured in season two of television's 24 and ended up dead in a car trunk at the hands of her crazed and abusive husband. Here, she is seen in memory through the eyes of Sean, whose father (Bill Sage) was an alcoholic and is attempting to put the past behind him and get on with his life, imploring his son to do the same. The trouble lies with Sean who is convinced that his father contracted someone (in particular a killer named Larry Childs, played with icy perfection by James Russo) to kill his mother to collect on her insurance policy. This notion drives Sean into the streets with an almost superhero-like duty to save the innocents while hunting for his mother's killer.
Teresa Aames (Zulay Henao) is the new homicide detective who crosses paths with Sean as she is trying to put Childs away for life due to a personal case. Finding out about his Sean's mother's death, which happened nine years ago, she offers to help him. In the midst of her curiosity, she finds out that he is researching Tricelaron, a drug that precipitates esophagus paralysis when ingested, causing the victim to suffocate. He brushes this off as research for a paper for school, even though chemistry isn't one of his subjects. Muhhhh-huuuu-huuuuh!
Sean becomes a self-appointed Public Avenger, lurking in the shadows to come to the aid of anyone who needs him. When a drug dealer threatens a woman, Sean shows up in a baseball cap and hood and taunts him. Commandeering the gun from the pimp, he kills him and a fellow drug dealer is blamed. When a prostitute's pimp threatens to kill her, Sean beats him with a bat and shoots him dead with no compunction. While on a subway ride home, he masks his face with black makeup and pummels a belligerent and drugged-out lunatic with brass knuckles.
He also manages to find time to attend a party at a friend's house and gets the attention of a fellow female student, only to go medieval on the ass of the school bully who shows up to manhandle her by introducing him to a glass table and a swift kick in the face.
Sean is wracked with anger and guilt for not having come to his mother's aid when she was abused and as the film progresses it becomes apparent that there is more to this than meets the eye. He is beginning to spiral out of control and is losing his grip on reality. We feel for him and his tormented mind and want him to persevere. It is a thrill to watch him dole out well-deserved beatings and killings to the filth that walks before him that has slipped through the cracks of the legal system. When Teresa tells Sean that his perpetrator needs to go through the system of due process if ever caught, Sean responds with an eloquent disregard for the system that she has sworn to uphold that affects her personally and she turns a corner.
The performances are terrific all around. Caleb Steinmeyer brings just the proper dose of sympathy to the role of Sean and like most teen-agers, he appears awkward among his peers. That attitude changes when he dons his hood and cap in the darkness of the night. Zulay Henao is very good as Teresa and the banter with her partner Gary (Daniel Stewart Sherman) is amusing. Bill Sage is terrific as Sean's father and despite having been a violent drunk he really does appear to be contrite and set on putting the past where it needs to be. In the film's most poignant scene, he takes Sean to the location where his mother died and apologizes for his drunken, abusive ways, pleading with Sean to forgive him. The supporting actors are terrific, too, especially the school bully and the homeless man on the subway.
The denouement is a true shocker, and I honestly did not like seeing the film end. This is one film that I would love see become a series of films, with Sean getting better at killing the degenerates of society. Director Morrissey is to be commended for making such an engaging story about a tortured youth who is trying to find his way in the world. The film has the guts to ask big questions, such as: What is a hero? What is right and what is wrong? What is justice?
BOY WONDER has deservedly won many awards at the film festivals that played at. So far only available on DVD, BOY WONDER includes a featurette on the making of the film.
BOY WONDER is a classic independent film on all accounts easily worthy of multiple viewings.
- Jonathan Stryker