Mud contains many likable things: Matthew McConaughey, Matthew McConaughey shirtless, nature, southern accents, Reese Witherspoon, and Michael Shannon. It bums me out to say, then, that it was a total misfire of a film.
It had flashes of greatness, of course. McConaughey’s transition from clean-cut rom-com stud to rugged, mysterious, quirky outdoorsman has been well-documented on this blog, and everywhere on the internet. It makes sense that he chose a role like this as he was making his resurgence into the world of serious acting. And I don’t know that I could have seen anyone else playing this role, either. Mud is a bad guy, but even after I found out he was bad, I never changed my view of him. I can’t not trust McConaughey. It’s just that as this lovelorn, forelorn, worn out guy, he looked too good. He was too tan, his shirt was too white, and his teeth were too shiny for me to be convinced that he had lived the life I imagined he led. And not only did Mud look too good, but he was too complicated for his own good, as well. At some point in the past he committed a murder, because the girl he on-again-off-again loved, Juniper (Witherspoon), got involved with the wrong guy for a second. At some point in the past he knew Sam Shepard, or whoever Sam Shepard was playing in this movie; it’s irrelevant. At some point in the past he lived in the riverlands of Arkansas. He’s got all the makings of a Southern bohemian, but he’s not even an ounce jaded. He still believes in love, enough to wait for his girl before skipping town, enough to mislead two innocent boys into thinking love is perfect and real and unchanging. None of it lined up for me.
The scene between Witherspoon and McConaughey that you might expect, given the plot line, never happens. They barely see each other from across a parking lot. It’s so disappointing. These two should have been in a movie together long ago, and they basically still haven’t. Witherspoon is in this movie for maybe seven minutes, also. What a waste of talent! And speaking of wasted talent, I had a hard time believing Michael Shannon in the role of Galen, surfer-bro uncle to Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Shannon is too dignified, too crazy-eyed, to portray someone that chill and misfitted. But he tried.
Lofland, though, and Tye Sheridan as Ellis, were great and understated in their roles. I like when kids support each other, and don’t create rifts over nothing. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but it bodes well for the future, at least in my head. Neckbone–I struggled to type that character name with a straight face–has Ellis’ back no matter what, as Ellis experiences the breakup of his parents, the discovery of love’s fickle nature, and what it means to be a man who lives in the woods eating beans out of a can. They’re good pals, and it’s sweet.
I have to applaud writer-director Jeff Nichols for at least trying to tell a different story, even though he didn’t get very creative with his dialogue. We’ve seen these types of tales before. Kids get inspired by some mystical guy in the forest, and it changes them forever. It’s interesting that this guy inspires them, but they figure out his ruse and call him on it. I just have a hard time combining the mystical element with the romance, and the adventure, and the tweendom. Too many genres, too little time. The music didn’t help, either; there were upbeat montages, dark ambient sounds, and a completely jarring inclusion of “Help Me Rhonda!” over the end credits, which took me out of the rather poetic and beautiful ending to the story. It’s almost as if this movie didn’t take itself seriously enough, which is a shame, because it could have been so great.
But if I really need my fix of McConaughey in the swamplands, I can just go back and rewatch True Detective. His arm tattoo is better on that show, anyway.