There are 161 reviews of Mud currently aggregated on Rotten Tomatoes. Of those, 98% are positive, meaning only 3 critics saw the same movie I did. Yes, writer/director Jeff Nichols made a purty movie with a strong cast and an interesting little allegorical fable. But do you know what the moral of that fable is? Love sucks because women are whores. I promise you, if you walk through the logic of what is shown, you can absolutely positively not come to any other conclusion. It’s been out for a while now and is on video, so this is going to be heavily spoiler-laden. Gird your loins, spoiler-phobes.
Two 14-year-old boys stumble on a boat that’s up in a tree. This is unusual, even in podunk, McNowhereSwampland where they live. They find a homeless, chipped-tooth, shirtless dude living in said boat and think “we should be that guy’s friend.” Let’s excuse the logic there because it has little to do with the problems at hand. The boat’s resident is Mud (Matthew McConaughey), and he’s there for love.
You see, he loves Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) so much. He always has. So every time they split up and she runs after another man who is terrible for her, he has to save her so they can be together. This time, he kinda sorta killed the guy who she was with because he was abusive to her. I admit, as far as murder justifications go in fiction, I tend to accept male abusers finding themselves on the savage end of cinematic justice. So the kids agree to help Mud get his boat working so he can escape with Juniper from the bad men and the lawmen coming after them.
And here’s where things go wonky. There are three romantic relationships in the movie: (1) Mud and Juniper, (2) Senior (Ray McKinnon) and Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). In the first relationship, Mud truly loves Juniper but she keeps leaving him for other men, because she’s a dumb whore. In the second relationship, which involves Ellis’ parents, Mary Lee is leaving Senior and taking the home he’s worked so hard for, because women are dumb whores. In the third relationship, Ellis thinks he’s in love and boyfriend/girlfriend with the older May Pearl after he saves her from a jerk hitting on her. Only then he finds her neckin’ with another dude. Why? I hope you guessed it.
So let’s say I’m wrong in reading into these scenarios, even though there is literally no way that’s the case. There’s a minor character in the film, Galen, who is there to basically deliver one monologue. It’s about how “Help Me Rhonda” is about a dude who is heartbroken and then is asking another chick to bang him to get revenge. He tells the teenage boy, “that’s what you gotta do” in somewhat graphic detail.
The song that plays over the triumphant shot of Mud escaping? “Help Me Rhonda.”
Don’t worry, world, Mud’s gonna totally lay the pipe to a new chick and that will show Juniper what’s what! There isn’t a world, no possible measure of interpretation in which this misogynistic theme isn’t the only one a person can take home. Not one single female character is portrayed as anything other than a combination of helpless, stupid, trashy and disloyal. Mud killed a guy “to protect his ex” but she’s seen as the villain because she doesn’t love him? I tend to not prefer fugitive murderers either.
What really pisses me off, I mean REALLY pisses me off, isn’t the stupid, gutless, cowardice of trying to suggest to audiences that men are loyal creatures of honor and women are untrustworthy trollops. No, that’s been pretty much done by various different “artists” since cavemen drew a cavewoman on a cavewall and called her a caveslut. No, what really sucks is that people have praised the crap out of this movie. Some have gone so far as to call for Oscars and to refer to the film as a modern “fairy tale.” Sure! If what you use as a benchmark for fairy tales are the embedded conduct codes that used to be repeated to little girls to make them behave in certain ways. But this ain’t the “magically tingly” kind of fairy tales. It’s the "fundamentally flawed indication of where a culture is at" kind of fairy tale.
Who cares if the performances were good or the movie looked pretty? The song that they leave you with calls back to an instruction to have sexual relations with any woman you see after a woman hurts you. Screw. All. Of. That.
There are some brilliant, sophisticated authors out there doing feminist criticism, women like Caroline Criado-Perez and Lindy West. And I would PAY THEM to hear their thoughts on this offensive, grotesque lesson in sexism shaped like a movie.
Grade = F- (yes, F-, deal with it)