While this year has been a subpar year for films so far, 2013 has been noted for its strong set of coming-of-age films. Films such as The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now have been some of the most buzzed about independent films of the year. However, the biggest coming-of-age film of 2013 might have been a film that debuted at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. That film would be Mud. Mud is at times a very strong film that’s filled with a talented cast. Yet it can’t quite achieve greatness thanks to some of its messages not hitting as well as they are intended.
Mud follows Ellis (Tye Sheridan), a teenager who lives on an Arkansas River with his soon-to-be-divorced parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson). In order to get away from his chaotic home life, Ellis is constantly out on the river with his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland making his acting debut). When they go to check out an island they come across a stranger (Matthew McConaughey) and set a chain of events in motion that none of them could have predicted. The film is directed and written by Jeff Nichols (who directed and wrote the powerful Take Shelter).
Jeff Nichols is a director to keep your eye on. He directed one of the most intense films in recent memory in Take Shelter, and with this film he proves that he is here to stay. Mud isn’t intense like Take Shelter, but Nichols still shows that he can direct a coming-of-age-tale filled with Mark Twain-inspired dialogue and moments. Yet this isn’t as structurally sound of a film as Take Shelter. Nichols tries to cover a lot of ground in Mud, and one of the things he does try to cover in this film is the role of women in our society. Many of the characters in this film treat women harshly, and if you were just watching this film casually you would get the impression that this film is misogynistic. I think Nichols ultimately gets his point (that women can be better leaders in society than men) across but it’s done in such a subtle fashion that it may not work for most against the brashness of some of the actions that the male characters take.
That is the film’s lone weakness, and luckily Nichols has a strong cast to make some of the weaker moments of the film work. Tye Sheridan delivers one of the strongest child performances in recent memory while Matthew McConaughey finally delivers a performance that can get me to jump on the McConaughey bandwagon (which has exploded in popularity in the past year). Ray McKinnon and Sam Shepard are also strong in supporting roles that they are perfectly suited for. However, the best supporting performance in the film might belong to Sarah Paulson, who gives so much to the viewer while saying so little.
Mud is a step down from Take Shelter for Jeff Nichols. Yet this film does cement him as one of the most promising directors currently working.