Sunday, May 12, 2013
Mud had gotten 98% and 88% positive ratings from critics and audiences, respectively, on Rottentomatoes. I'd never seen a rating that high before, so saw the movie last night.
It's about two boys who meet a stranger hiding out on an island in the Mississippi. He tells them some tall tales, and some turn out to be true.
The movie is better than other coming of age movies for the same reason Stand By Me was better than The Goonies: it is more real. The characters, the setting, the plot, and the dialogue of Mud are all believable. None of the adult characters are too good, or too bad, and all are plausible. They're all "white trash," yet the movie does not condescend to them.
The grittiness of the setting isn't romanticized, yet it also doesn't detract from the essentially romantic nature of the movie.
During the previous decade, Matthew McConnaughey made a career as a leading man in sappy romantic comedies co-starring the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Kate Hudson and Penelope Cruz. Since 2010, he's specialized in more offbeat roles, playing creepy types with a hint of menace, which he does well. That ability serves him well in Mud: at the beginning, it's unclear if he's going to turn out more like Max Cady, or Shane.
Mud was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who grew up in Arkansas. He said he wanted to capture a disappearing culture. Some of the reviewers likened the movie to an updated Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn; Nichols has said that he is influenced by Mark Twain.
Movies described as being "about love, and honesty, and growing up" usually turn out to be about corniness, sentimentality, and a leftist view of the world. This one actually is about love, which it examines honestly: how it goes sour, how it goes stale, and how it is misplaced. It's about honesty, which it examines lovingly: the two central characters are the young boys who have not yet learned how to lie, either to themselves or to others. And it's about growing up, which cannot happen painlessly.
That description sounds pretentious, but the movie is not. See it.