Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: First Trailer For 'Avengers: Age Of Ultron,' Brings Mass Destruction Along With Scarlet Witch & Quicksilver Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Watch: 'Star Wars' Prequels Recut Into 2 Hour 40 Minute 'Turn to the Darkside: Episode 3.1' Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Edward Norton Says He Didn't Return To Play Hulk Because He Wanted More "Diversity" In His Film Roles Oscar Buzz: Who Could Be Set For Nods In The Supporting Actress Race? Oscar Buzz: Who Could Be Set For Nods In The Supporting Actress Race? Juliette Binoche Says Her Performance In 'Godzilla' Made Quentin Tarantino Cry Juliette Binoche Says Her Performance In 'Godzilla' Made Quentin Tarantino Cry Listen To Chvrches "Get Away" From The Rescored Version Of Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' Plus Check Out The Trailer Listen To Chvrches "Get Away" From The Rescored Version Of Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive' Plus Check Out The Trailer The Essentials: The 10 Best Michael Keaton Performances The Essentials: The 10 Best Michael Keaton Performances George Lucas Says Studios "Don't Have Any Imagination And Don't Have Any Talent" George Lucas Says Studios "Don't Have Any Imagination And Don't Have Any Talent" Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 7 ‘Friendless Child’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 7 ‘Friendless Child’ Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Watch: Baz Luhrmann's Chanel No. 5 Short Film "The One That I Want" Starring Gisele Bündchen Watch: Baz Luhrmann's Chanel No. 5 Short Film "The One That I Want" Starring Gisele Bündchen Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting Gone Girls And Gone Boys: 11 Films That Dissect Marriage Gone Girls And Gone Boys: 11 Films That Dissect Marriage Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

Cannes Review: 'Mud' Starring Matthew McConaughey Is An Underwhelming Anti-Fairy Tale

The Playlist By Simon Abrams | The Playlist May 26, 2012 at 8:28AM

"Mud," American writer/director Jeff Nichols' underwhelming follow-up to the masterfully visceral "Take Shelter," is a shallow and contrived coming of age story. While both 'Shelter' and "Shotgun Stories," Nichols' promising debut feature, explore their respective characters' motives and emotions, "Mud" instead offers pat sentiments and bland bathos.
27
"Mud."
"Mud."

"Mud," American writer/director Jeff Nichols' underwhelming follow-up to the masterfully visceral "Take Shelter," is a shallow and contrived coming of age story. While both 'Shelter' and "Shotgun Stories," Nichols' promising debut feature, explore their respective characters' motives and emotions, "Mud" instead offers pat sentiments and bland bathos.

While his parents talk about separating, Ellis (Tye Sheridan, one of the boys in Malick's "The Tree Of Life"), an adolescent native of DeWitt, Arkansas, helps Mud (an accomplished performance from Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive, reunite with his lover. Ellis isn't initially sure why he confides in Mud. But ultimately, Ellis sticks by the titular Byronic redneck in a predictably vain attempt to understand his parents’ break-up and why self-evident displays of affection cannot be taken at face value. Every ounce of mystery and promise established in the first half hour of "Mud" evaporates once it becomes clear that Nichols is more earnestly interested in using Mud to disabuse Ellis of his romantic ideals. "Mud" isn't a dud because it's more easy-going or more bloated than Nichols's previous films, though it is both of those things. It’s a misfire because unlike Nichols’s previous narratives, “Mud” just isn't as well-conceived or even that theoretically rewarding.

Matthew McConaughey Tye Sheridan Mud

Ellis spends much of “Mud” ignoring the obvious ways that the people he cares about don’t conform to his expectations. He ignores repeated warnings from people like concerned neighbor Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard), who insists Mud isn’t the good person Ellis thinks he is. And with the help of his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), Ellis decides to help Mud reunite with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), Mud’s fair-weather lover. Juniper is, in other words, not the “pretty” and loyal person Mud makes her out to be, either. In that sense, it’s essential for Ellis’s growth as a character for him to reluctantly see for himself just how unfaithful Juniper is (a bar scene that establishes this point is especially tedious).

The same is true of Ellis’s clichéd and crassly manipulative relationship with May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), an older teenager who’s just not as into Ellis as he is into her. At first, Ellis just takes it as a given that he has momentarily impressed May Pearl because he decked a senior who tried to push her around. But as we immediately see, May Pearl deliberately doesn’t answer Ellis when he asks her to be his girlfriend, preferring instead to respond with a kiss on the lips. So again, for Ellis to grow up, he’s got to see that a punch in the mouth is not the same thing as being chivalrous and that a kiss on the lips is not a confession of love.

Matthew McConaughey Mud

Worse still, the real reason why Ellis needs to learn these lessons from everyone but his parents is both the most disappointing and the most intentionally under-developed subplot in “Mud.” In the film’s introductory scene, Ellis’s parents Senior and Mary Lee (the equally exceptional duo of Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) start to fight while he sneaks out to meet Neckbone. Senior and Mary Lee are the most interesting characters in the film, especially since they may disagree about how to discipline their son but are united in their flinty affection for him. But since Ellis is apparently only able to become sufficiently disillusioned by proxy in “Mud,” Ellis’s parents are only supporting characters at best. So while they are the most fully realized characters in “Mud,” Nichols’s film unfortunately isn't (directly) about them.

The same is true of Neckbone’s uncle Galen (the sorely wasted Michael Shannon), a womanizing loner who makes his living by digging up clams. When Galen is introduced, Neckbone is told by Galen’s latest conquest not to grow up to be like his irresponsible and ungentlemanly uncle. But as we see, Galen is actually one of the most sensitive, though hardly perceptive, characters in the film. In time, Galen notices Neckbone and Ellis’s trips to visit Mud and gets worried. And he even tries to gently steer the duo towards telling someone they trust about Mud. But because he’s not a burly, mysterious, conflicted antihero like Mud, Galen’s also not the guy Ellis learns his lesson from. “Mud” is as unmoving as it is because it doesn’t aspire to be anything other than a competent anti-fairy tale in which the paint-by-number morals are enforced by equally obvious main protagonists. [C]

This article is related to: Mud, Jeff Nichols, Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Review, Cannes Film Festival


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates