Boy, The (USA; 94 min.)
directed by: Michael Burke
starring: Emile Hirsch; Tom Guiry; Richard Jenkins
Bruce says: "THE MUDGE BOY opens with a woman riding her bike down a bucolic path, a stack of eggs carefully placed in her bicycle basket. As she reaches a knoll she dismounts and walks the bike to the top of the ridge where she gets back on. Suddenly she keels over into the woods with a heart attack.
"Duncan Mudge (Emile Hirsch), her fourteen year old son, has trouble coping with her death. He and his mother had been inseparable. His mother’s passion was raising chickens and through her passion Duncan finds the cornerstone of his universe. He communicates with chickens better than he does with people. One chicken in particular is his pet. The chicken sleeps with Duncan, follows him around the farmyard and rides with him on his bicycle.
"Edgar Mudge, his father (Richard Jenkins), is stern, distant and incapable of showing his grief after his wife dies. Duncan displays his grief openly, wearing his mother’s clothes to bed and having imaginary conversations between his mother and himself at the dinner table. Edgar is horrified at such behavior and vows to turn Duncan into a man by giving him tough chores around the farm. He tells Duncan to give two of the best chickens to the hired hand and wrings their necks in front of Duncan to prove who’s the boss. One day Duncan goes into the parlor with his work clothes on and sits on the settee. His father comes in and yells for Duncan to get out of the room. Duncan won’t budge. Edgar and Duncan exchange words and Duncan is left half standing, half sagging against the front of the settee, a position of absolute defeat.
"Duncan has only one friend, Perry (Tom Guiry), who lives on a neighboring farm. Perry is sexually charged yet empathetic and sensitive, a combination rarely found in a teenager; but it turns out he also can be mean in the face of peer pressure. While milking his family’s herd of beautiful Holsteins, he loves to torment Duncan with stories of his sexual prowess, going into great detail about each sexual act. Duncan is aroused by all the sex talk but is confused about whether it is the girls in the stories or Perry himself that is the source of his erotic awakening. Perry calls Duncan weird when Duncan puts his chicken’s head in his mouth. Duncan replies earnestly, 'This is how you calm down a chicken.'
"Perry has lots of friends and their singular pastime is riding around in an old pickup truck drinking to excess and occasionally stopping for a bit of sex in the bushes. At Perry’s insistence they invite Duncan to join them in the back of the truck. At first Duncan is elated to be included, but Perry’s friends find Duncan creepy and call him 'Chicken Boy.' Duncan is invited for rides often once the guys and girls discover he has his egg money to buy booze for everyone. Duncan’s life is spiraling out of control from every angle.
"THE MUDGE BOY is simultaneously a study of Duncan’s grieving process and a coming of age tale. It is delicately filmed with great attention to the details of farm life and the beauty of the Vermont countryside. Michael Burke deserves immense credit for his offbeat storyline and his direction which captures the complicated, painful issues so realistically. Richard Jenkins is one of those actors who works consistently yet seems like a new face when given a meaty role such as Edgar Mudge. Tom Guiry (MYSTIC RIVER; SCOTLAND, PA; BLACK HAWK DOWN) oozes sex and charm.
"The film belongs to Emile Hirsch (THE EMPEROR’S CLUB; THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS) who gives a brave and nuanced performance as the sorrowful, sexually confused Duncan. THE MUDGE BOY is a film I will never forget. (Be forewarned, THE MUDGE BOY contains scenes of shocking brutality.) 5 cats"