Mud is a story about a fugitive, Mud (McConaughey) and his quest to obtain the love of his life, Juniper (Witherspoon), a headcase in trouble, and escape with her on a boat. All the while, trying to avoid being caught or seen by a band of bounty hunters. Upon his Journey, he is befriended by two adolescents, Ellis and Neckbone (Sheridan and Lofland, respectively) who are on a similar quest of acquiring a boat.
The characters excel at avoiding and inviting trouble at the right times, both with themselves and with the very people giving chase.
The movie progresses quite naturally, lending a strong hand from a solid script and very likeable characters. The inexperienced, both, Ellis and Neckbone play their roles extremely well. Ellis is a fighter and looks to land the first punch upon every encounter with adversity–and it’s usually always someone bigger than him. Neckbone plays the loyal sidekick and never wavers in his attempt to help out his trusty partner.
Juniper is a natural wreck. She neither knows what she wants nor is she unwilling to give up her vices for a better life. Mud and Juniper are enraptured in a cat-and-mouse relationship, sometimes with role reversals.
As the story unravels, much has happened, but what has been gained can’t be expressed in a plot-like manner. We can call the ending happy or sad, depending on the context of one’s emotions, but there are many lessons to be learned and walked away from.
There is a plot, but it is not what makes the movie great. Instead, it’s the interactions all these characters share in a coming-of-age sort of setting. It removes age barriers which allows improbable friendships to transpire. What we learn about the characters can almost be mirrored in what we learn of ourselves through the characters. Feelings of abandonment, disarray and even guilt can be felt from every angle. We see ourselves in Ellis and Mud, both in their transgressions and their potential. We provide emotional amnesty to Mud, despite the problems he’s caused and the havoc he is yet to wreak. We do this because we want to learn from his mistakes and his experiences, good or bad, so as to understand and empathize with a character we want to prevail.
Matthew McConaughey, for some time now has been one of my most likeable performers on screen. He has such a raw, natural tenacity to be both, weirdly subversive and charming, simultaneously. It’s no surprise that they chose him to play Mud, nor is it surprising that he would choose such a role tailored to his skills and abilities.
The real star of the movie, however, is the newcomer, Sheridan. He has a naturally aggressive on-screen verve that is unmatched for any kid I’ve seen of his age. It’s still early to tell how far reaching his thespian abilities will take him, but rest assured, we’ll be seeing more of him in the coming years.