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Mutt 2023 Movie Review
Day in the life stories are a well-worn genre in filmmaking, but they work for a reason. Getting a small portrait of a person as they go about navigating one approximately twenty-four-hour period strikes a balance between revealing and withholding as we learn much via their daily interactions while still trying to fill in the gaps of what came before. There is a good version of this movie to be found in Mutt, the feature debut of writer-director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, that we get occasional glimpses of. Placing us in the shoes of the young Feña (Lío Mehiel) we accompany him throughout New York City as he must deal with various relationships, obligations, and his own peace of mind that painfully seems forever out of reach.
Having recently transitioned, he has found newfound freedom that is tempered by the repeated indignities he faces from even those close to him. There is much to be found in many of these small moments, both painful and poetic, but they aren’t given much of any time to breathe. Instead, the film will frequently whisk onto the next situation before the scene we were just in could leave its mark. It makes a film that could have been a reflective one into one that is more rushed and scattered to the point of being surprisingly superficial.
It all begins with Feña out at a party. Seemingly relaxed, when he steps outside for a call we first hear from his father who is going to be traveling to the city and needs to be picked up from the airport. The conversation is tense, and you can hear the baggage the two share as Feña promises that he’ll be there. When he attempts to go back to the party, he catches sight of his ex John (Cole Doman) who hasn’t seen him since he transitioned. A bit flustered, Feña soon learns that he is back in the area as his mother is sick. The night continues on and the two end up sleeping together. However, it ends awkwardly as John quickly leaves without saying much of anything and leaves Feña rightfully frustrated by the curt way he treated him.
He, and we as the audience, aren’t given much time to sit with this as he has to get going to check off all the necessary errands that day in order to get ready to pick up his dad. Complications abound from a surprise visit from a family member to an unexpected issue with the car requiring Feña to think fast to find a new one. While Mehiel gives a compelling performance at the center of all this, the film starts to get caught up in loops that never offer enough interiority to the characters as it just keeps going through the motions.
Some of this is rather awkward like when Feña takes a sudden fall while jumping a subway turnstile. He wasn’t able to pay because, in another clunky scene, his wallet got locked inside an apartment. These accidents are clearly meant to be an accumulation of just everything going wrong, but it starts to feel overly punishing with little purpose behind them. As a trans man, Feña already has to put up with discrimination at his work, the bank, the pharmacy, and basically everywhere in what remains a deeply transphobic society. It all takes a toll and the frustration felt in Mehiel’s performance in these scenes doesn’t shy away from this. However, much of the dialogue is written in a stilted manner that lacks any sort of subtlety. Even as all the cast try their hardest to make it sound natural, it still falls increasingly flat.
Showing in a story how casual yet still cruel transphobia can be is well-intentioned. The issue becomes that the more that Feña has to keep explaining himself to various other close-minded characters, the more we lose sense of who he is and what is going on in his own mind outside how others see him. This makes for the least engaging version of this story possible as it starts to shift from being about navigating a harsh world to having a narrative that is driven by it. While they are very different in tone, the way that 2015’s slice-of-life dramedy Tangerine brought this to life showed how to find an infinitely better balance than anything taking place here. Mutt is never exploitative, but it still feels like its focus is on all the wrong things. Whenever you think it is going to leave that all behind, it keeps losing the most interesting threads to pick up ones that never pack the same poetic potential.
This is most felt in the relationship he has with John who, while he has his own life problems going on, remains a rather inconsiderate person. While much of the point of the film could be that Feña still wanting to be with him is intentionally tragic, the way this is portrayed again primarily defines him via his relationship with another. When some of the things John says in an argument later in the film become especially hurtful, it becomes harder and harder to see why the film makes him such a focal point. The relationship that we eventually get to see between Feña and his father has a bit more layers to it while still having some of the same problems.
There is just never the robust development given to the details of his life outside what everyone else seems to think of him. The small scenes between Feña and his group of friends pass all too quickly, giving little sense of how he goes about his life when not being constantly judged by others. The texture that gives vibrancy to these types of understated stories just isn’t there, ensuring that what little there is to grasp onto soon slips away as well. When you look back on the journey that Mutt ends up taking, it is defined by all the more intriguing paths it didn’t go down that could have provided more insight into its central character.