The Mudge Boy

on May 07, 2004 by Annlee Ellingson
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Pitch-perfect performances and eloquent cinematography together create a richly textured portrait of a boy, Duncan Mudge (Emile Hirsch), who blissfully unwittingly doesn't belong. Left alone with his hard-nosed farmer father when his mother, his soul mate, passes away, Duncan finds that the sensitive qualities that so endeared him to her are considered, “funny,” “weird,” “queer” by others. Yet he clings to them tenaciously, carting around a pet chicken, swathing himself in her coats, her clothes, and calming his birds by placing their heads in the warm, wet orifice of his mouth. (Yes, it's a sexual metaphor that culminates gruesomely in a final, desperate bid for acceptance.)

Hirsch, seen last year at Sundance in “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys,” here wholly embodies the awkwardness of the character in a fearless performance totally devoid of vanity --a rare quality for an actor still in his teens. Nicely complementing Hirsch is Richard Jenkins in a spot-on portrayal of Edgar, a father who is ashamed of his son, whom he considers weak and, again, weird. Theirs is a home of silence: When Edgar catches Duncan wearing his mom's fur coat to bed, he simply sees it, gestures for it and looks away without saying a word. And then, “No more, alright?” It is one of the more authentic moments ever captured on film.

Meanwhile, Duncan befriends Perry (Thomas Guiry), a ruggedly handsome neighbor boy with his own domestic difficulties who takes a shine to Duncan. Their relationship is a complicated one that can only end, predictably, badly.

With static photography, cinematographer Vanja Cernjul captures both the idyll of the verdant rural countryside and, in an achingly poetic shot, the crippling grief of loss without even showing a face: Edgar's legs outstretched on his bed as seen through a doorframe. Starring Emile Hirsch, Richard Jenkins and Thomas Guiry. Directed and written by Michael Burke. Produced by Elizabeth W. Alexander, Alison Benson and Randy Ostrow. A Strand release. Drama. Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, a rape, and language. Running time: 90 min

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