Reese Witherspoon stars in 'Mud,' a dreamy but scattered backwater tale
Reese Witherspoon plays Juniper, the object of drifter Mud's affections, in the new film. Reese Witherspoon is impressively muted, but her character is little more than a plot device.
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Characters like Neckbone’s uncle/guardian Galen (Michael Shannon) or Mud’s parent figure/guardian, Tom (Sam Shepard), are given considerable screen time – yet their characters’ relevance is periphery at best. By contrast, secondary characters like Ellis’ parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) actually do have relevance, but still feel somewhat extraneous in their juxtaposition to the main narrative. Character actors like Joe Don Baker (Goldeneye) and Paul Sparks (Boardwalk Empire) show up for literally one or two moments of any significance – even though they are supposed to be the main threat that drives the central plot.Skip to next paragraph
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Even Juniper amounts to little more than a plot device. Though Witherspoon turns in an impressively drab performance (as opposed to her usual cutesy persona), “June” is just another addition to the story that we never have time to really delve into. The same could be argued for Mud, a character so mysterious and ethereal that at first he hardly seems real. McConaughey continues his trend of smart role choices and delivers a great performance – balancing Mud in a tricky space between likability and menace - but again, there is more implied about the character and his complexity than the film actually explores.
What really holds Mud together are the central performances by young Tye Sheridan and debut actor Jacob Lofland. From the onset, the film establishes that these are not your stereotypical backwater hick teens, and the rest of the film certainly supports that, investing in exploring the depth and complexity of the two young men as they (primary Ellis) are coming of age in a most unorthodox way.
Sheridan is extremely impressive, with a face and eyes that house sharp intelligence and self-awareness when it comes to playing a scene. By contrast, Lofland has attitude, witty timing and sheer charisma that makes him totally fun to watch. Together, the pair have chemistry that make them a strong protagonist team, and many of their interactions with McConaughey are downright priceless. Thanks to its young leads, Mud walks the line between childhood and adulthood in a manner as resonant and entertaining as a film like Stand By Me.
However, as stated, this film isn’t simply about its two young leads (though at the same time, it is very much Ellis’ story). The overstuffed nature of the proceedings admittedly makes the film drag too often, and there are subplots (such as Ellis’ girlfriend troubles) that, while charming or interesting in the moment, are ultimately detrimental to the overall coherence of the film.
Mud is worthy viewing if you’re looking for a wonderfully strange indie folk tale – but be ready to invest the stamina needed to pull through the slower segments.
Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.
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