I love summer movies, when summer movies are good. And with Mud we have just that. This is an enjoyable movie through and through, fun but with a little more weight than it looks like from the outside.
Mud is about Ellis and Neckbone, two kids from rural Arkansas who cross paths with a rambling stranger (Matthew McConaughey), and what happens when they decide to help him. It is a coming-of-age story about dealing with love and finding your place and stuff, but it comes off way better than that. It is written and directed by Jeff Nichols, the guy who surprised us all with Take Shelter last year, and can probably be responsible for Michael Shannon being in Man of Steel.
What impressed me about this movie is its absolute insistence on avoiding genre conventions. It is set in the south, featuring two friends and their adventures involving a vagrant (Twain, anybody?) but that never even crosses your mind. Ellis' family situation is falling apart, and he is crushing on an older girl from the city, but instead of taking the well-established path of everybody getting what they want as the credits roll to upbeat pop, we are taken for an unpredictable and satisfying ride.
We have here a summer movie with (don't say it!) some kind of message. It seems that we don't really know how to deal with love and its effects in any form. But I don't think it is that simple. The great thing is it is a multi-toned message; each strand is compatible with the others but they don't really add up to a cohesive whole. Instead we end up with a kind of collage against the human backdrop of the deep south. The other thing is it doesn't get caught up in trying to teach us anything: it is primarily a story, told to entertain, but told well, like your grandmother might have told one, leaving you to think about it as you drift away to sleep.
Mud is rated PG-13 for some moderately naughty words and some violence.
by Chase Harrison