From Showtime Pictures
Directed by Michael Burke
Sweet, endearing Duncan Mudge is a 14-year old, ultra-sensitive, isolated, effeminate Vermont farm boy. We feel for him. In real life, we would put our arms around him and tell him everything's gonna be alright. He's an only child and his beloved mother has just died. Life will be chilly with his cold, rather distant father who knows little about love or at least little in knowing how to express it.
The father is lost without his wife but not in the same way Duncan is. The father likely doesn't miss his wife as much as he misses his cook, his maid, his seamstress, his sometimes partner in the fields. He would have made love to her if he hadn't gone to bed so early while she stayed up. He could have ask her to join him there but he probably didn't. After she died and he was cleaning out her things, he found vodka bottles stashed all around the worn out house. She needed to escape into a world of her own fuzzy making.
Duncan is bereft at her passing. She was likely very loving with him, listened to him. They were all one another really had. He dresses up in his mother's clothes. He forms an unusual attachment to her chickens, especially one of them whose head he puts fully in his mouth because it calms it. The father thinks his son is pretty weird. Actually Duncan thinks so, too.
The father's friend comes over and while he appears to like Duncan well enough, he does ask the father what's up with the kid, why he doesn't do more around the farm. It is true, much to the father's chagrin, that Duncan wasn't cut out for farm life. Truth be told, he just doesn't like spending much time with his dad.
Duncan wants acceptance as much as he has ever wanted anything. He had it with his mama, it's nowhere to be found with his father when along comes a ragtag group of teen ruffians (three guys and two girls). They accept him into their orbit but mainly use him for money and laugh at him. He knows it, too, but when one is desperate for attention and acceptance, one accepts what little crumbs are doled out.
One boy in the crowd, Perry, slightly older than Duncan, seems to stand apart from the others in some ways, showing the 14-year old a little more attention. He is a neighbor whom Duncan begins to take a fancy to.
One thing is pretty clear about both boys. They are both gay but it is expressed in different ways. Duncan would be outed in just about any community because he is decidedly effeminate and awkward. He may be lonely and wan when we meet him but he's also young and a virgin and one day when he moves out of his small farming community and into one of the gay meccas, his life will be just fine.
Perry is another matter all the way around. He is butch and bullish (he is regularly beaten up by his father), loves to brag about how hung he is and is given to talking about his sexual exploits. His graphic talks are really about working Duncan into a fever pitch. And it works. Perry knows it will and he plays the boy well.
One lazy smalltown day Duncan joins Perry and his friends at a large outdoor beerfest with a lot of other older teens. When one of them makes fun of Duncan, Perry beats him up. Before they leave, Perry allows Duncan to watch him have sex with a girl but it is the two boys who are looking into one another's eyes.
Perry sends out a lot of mixed signals, an arsenal of them, as clear as the methane lifting from the fields. One day on a railroad track trellis, stripped to their jockey shorts, sitting next to one another, Duncan admiringly touches Perry's biceps. Perry at first is alarmed but the incident will help move their intimacies along. Perry will aid in Duncan discovering the emotional underpinnings of his gayness while being unable to do it for himself. Perry is the type of boy who will marry young, have a passel of kids to help him out with the farm work. He will abuse his family, cheat on his wife with the local trash and never deal with his own attraction to men.
A pivotal moment for the boys comes when they are in Duncan's barn. Perry is feeling his oats, getting a little randy, when he spies Duncan's mother's wedding dress in a box, where all her clothes have been stored. He tells Duncan to put it on. Really? Perry tells him it would be cool, it's just the two of them. Duncan sheepishly begins putting on the dress over his clothes when Perry tells me to take off his own clothes first. Really, it will be so cool.
As Duncan completes his task, Perry starts his. He roughly shoves the gussied-up younger boy against a paddock fence and rapes him. He is rough, unyielding, glad that he is hurting the kid. Duncan doesn't fight him but he weeps hanging his head over the fence.
Perry, pleased with himself, zips up and sits on a barrel, lighting up a cigarette and talks about a car his father bought as casually as if they'd been chatting about it all along. Duncan, horrified at the rough treatment but otherwise likely happy that his virginal status was a thing of the past, asks Perry to help him out of the dress, which he can't manage on his own. Before this can be accomplished, the father opens the barn door. Perry can't run out fast enough while Duncan is embarrassed and his father disgusted.
Shy begins to be overcome when urges ripen. Duncan makes a surprise visit to Perry's house late at night. They sit in an old truck together. Perry asks if Duncan's father said anything about Perry. This time, for the first time, their roles have reversed somewhat. Perry is itchy and fidgety and Duncan more in control of what he wants. Here's how it plays out:
The next day Duncan and his chicken encounter the boys at a local market. Perry has told his friends everything and they taunt the younger teen. Perry apparently is spared the same wrath because, after all, he's not queer, and Duncan is damned because he is a sissy who took it. It's a tale as old as boys taking sex from other boys. Things escalate badly and Duncan runs off.
What does end well is that his father comforts him, finally, when Duncan arrives home. His father grabs him and puts his arms around him while Duncan cries his eyes out at his friend's betrayal and other humilities. But you just know-- I know-- that this is one of those moments coated in brilliantine. Lustre will come to Duncan's life as he and his father discover one another for the first time, allowing each other to be who they are and to show love. As the story concluces, we know Duncan will make more life-altering choices and he will fly. It's as certain as that rooster crowing the next morning at daybreak.
The Mudge Boy is a coming-of-age and coming out story all rolled into one. And done to perfection. It is a story I know very well. Duncan and I have a lot in common. It could have been me in many ways, sans the farm... and I have never in any way, shape or form had a relationship with a live chicken. But I know this story. I've cried his tears, shared his fears, endured the years of uncertainty and dread and hiding.
The film was directed and written by Michael Burke. I have no idea who he is but this is without question his story. He told it very, very well.
He was aided handsomely by three fine actors who racked up Brownie points with me. The Mudge Boy introduced me to Emile Hirsch. I thought he was adorable. I ain't going all Perry on you here. He just was so adorable in his innocence, all wide-eyed and fumbling. To buy the story, one has to buy Emile Hirsch's engaging performance. I've followed his work ever since. He again played a gay character, a very different one, in Milk a few years later.
There was another windfall received in Thomas Guiry's portrayal of Perry. He was so good. Perry was troubled and confused, masculine and weak, kind and unkind. I've known a few Perrys in my life and I can tell you this was a stellar performance.
I have known a lot of people like the father, too. I mean those who are unable to express love or much of anything, really. They are withdrawn often for reasons known only to them, if them, and in their wake they leave a lot of people badly needing to feel loved.. Character actor Richard Jenkins just nailed the performance. He may not have said much but his bits of physical business said it all.
The Mudge Boy is my 17th favorite film. It really touched me. I hold it near and dear. Coupling this with another of my favorites, Making Love (# 33 on the list), you've got two movies outlining a great deal of my life. Hang in here, there's even more to come in this arena.
Review of Broken City