Sunday, May 19, 2024

“MUTT”

THE STORY – A transgender man goes through an emotional roller-coaster over a 24-hour period in New York City.

THE CAST – Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, Mimi Ryder & Alejandro Goic

THE TEAM – Vuk Lungulov-Klotz (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 87 Minutes


2023 has been an exciting year for feature directorial debuts, from Celine Song’s “Past Lives” and Adele Lim’s “Joy Ride” to A.V. Rockwell’s “A Thousand and One.” Joining the company of emerging creative voices is Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s “Mutt,” a slice-of-life story about a young trans man, Feña (Lío Mehiel), moving through the world. Set over 24 hours in New York City; the story exists in the moments between milestones. The film follows Feña’s everyday endeavors in ordinary locations, creating a lived-in experience that puts you in the protagonist’s mindset. While the city hustles and bustles around him, there are stunning quiet moments against the frenzy. Each moment in the film, whether running into an ex or visiting a bank to deposit a check, is filled with emotional stakes that navigate LGBTQ+ experiences. As you learn more about the protagonist’s life post-transition, as well as his personal relationships, the stronger this story pieces itself together as a resonant character study. Featuring a brilliant star-making performance by Lío Mehiel, winner of the Special Jury Award for Acting at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, “Mutt” shines as a poignant coming-of-age drama.

“Mutt” is a refreshing addition to the “24-hour-day” sub-genre, a familiar concept of storytelling that establishes character and setting over a single day. Sometimes that day can be stressful to infinity (The Safdie Brothers’ “Good Time” races to mind) or leisurely and gentle (like absorbing the blossoming romance in Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise”). In the hands of a great storyteller, a limited amount of time is filled to the brim with a substantial emotional journey, one that makes you feel deeply rooted to the characters, to the point where you lose track of time. “Mutt” does just that. Existing someplace between frantic and still, the story expands on the protagonist through his connections. In the span of one day, Feña’s ex-boyfriend John (Cole Doman), sister Zoe (MiMi Ryder), and father Pablo (Alejandro Goic) are all reintroduced into his life to varying effects. Feña still has feelings for John, reconnects with Zoe after having been forced out of the family picture by their mother, and navigates his father’s harmful perspective on him being trans. Through the fluctuating dynamics of these characters, the film explores who the protagonist is beyond his tough exterior. While navigating a range of emotions evoked by multiple reunions in one day, Feña is also undergoing a physical and cognitive transformation, having just recently transitioned.

The nuances around gender identity and formative relationships are beautifully communicated through the strength of Lungulov-Klotz’s screenplay. While some parts of the dialogue can be a little heavy-handed, overall, the writing creates an engaging flow of conversation out of character-driven moments. The story arcs emerge from the characters’ inner conflicts, as well as the palpable tension that arises from what’s left unsaid between them. By penning the film from Feña’s perspective in particular, Lungulov-Klotz takes you deep into the in-betweens of relationships as the protagonist experiences them in real-time. Each reconnection he has brings out a different side to him and creates a narrative opportunity to explore how each relationship takes a new shape after his transition. For instance, Feña still feels attracted to his ex-boyfriend John (back in town after some time away) and also feels that John is afraid of loving a trans man. Their reencounter, being the first time since Feña’s transition, is full of unresolved emotions. The complexity of their relationship subtly builds up towards a very hurtful release on both sides, which both actors play with stunning openness.

One intense look that Feña and John share from across a bar speaks volumes. The film establishes a strong connection between the two characters and, in every moment thereafter, expands on shared intimacy and vulnerability. In one of the most impactful scenes of the film, Feña, and John get caught in the rain and find sanctuary in a glowing 24-hour laundromat. Silence fills in the gaps left behind by unspoken emotions. Feña removes his shirt; John feels Feña’s chest. Each component, from the acting and direction to the editing and cinematography, blends seamlessly to capture a naturalistic “fly on the wall” moment. The overall technical achievements of “Mutt” are a lived-in extension of the storytelling. Adam Dicterow’s editing creates an environment where you feel like you’re naturally moving through a person’s day. Matthew Pothier’s cinematography highlights tender moments. Not only when it comes to the characters but also the depiction of New York City, a location so often portrayed to a flashy extent. In “Mutt,” the city is seen from a deeply personal perspective, as though the characters define the significance of spaces, from a 24-hour laundromat to a tiny shared apartment.

Making their feature film debut in “Mutt,” Lío Mehiel gives one of the year’s most grounded and visceral performances. Their portrayal of Feña is incredibly endearing and intimate to watch. Mehiel expertly conveys the character’s self-protective personality, fear of rejection, and deep wanting to be understood. Through their performance, you come to feel the character’s painful recollections of the past, a transitional adjustment in the present day, and a desire for a more loving future. The protagonist’s personal experiences are juxtaposed with the people who revisit his life, unexpectedly or not. Feña’s sister Zoe, who shows up at his place of work out of the blue, plays a vital role in unlocking a secret piece of the protagonist’s family. Through subtle dialogue that suggests tension and estrangement with their mother, the siblings’ dynamic is the clear aftermath of lost time together as the two try to rediscover each other.

“Mutt” excels at telling a day-in-the-life story through character-driven moments. The film’s intimate time spent with the protagonist gets you inside his headspace and establishes an emotional candidness, which makes each personal revelation about his life all the more resounding. Everyday interactions and undertakings, even the simplicity of picking up his father from the airport, carry weight to them. Feña’s father, Pablo, arriving from Chile, lingers in the background of the story’s main action. Throughout the film, Feña tries to secure a car so that he can drive to the airport, and so his father is constantly top of his mind. The relationship is teased with a brief phone call that leaves Feña frustrated, a starter of what’s to come.

The stirring conversation during the car ride from the airport transports you to a deeply personal place of what it feels like for the protagonist to be misunderstood and to deal with microaggressions from family. In just a few minutes, this car scene reveals so much about both characters: from Feña’s emotional tiredness to Pablo’s confusion and concern, as well as the melancholia and warmth that surrounds the relationship overall. Lungulov-Klotz has a knack for making big conversations feel as though they’ve unraveled organically from the smallest of occurrences, as is so often the case in reality. It’s this approach that helps the film stand out as a portrait of rediscovered relationships in all their messiness and wistfulness. Led by a wonderful performance at the center, “Mutt” is a tender entry into “one-day” cinema, with enough subtext to linger around in your mind long after the end credits roll.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Lío Mehiel’s unforgettable performance leads a poignant feature debut that explores the complexities of under-represented experiences.

THE BAD - The film’s relatively short runtime leaves you wanting a bit more narrative development.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Nadia Dalimonte
Nadia Dalimonte
Editor In Chief for Earth to Films. Film Independent, IFS Critics, NA Film Critic & Cherry Pick member.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Lío Mehiel’s unforgettable performance leads a poignant feature debut that explores the complexities of under-represented experiences.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The film’s relatively short runtime leaves you wanting a bit more narrative development.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"MUTT"