Mud : The Stuff Summer Films Should Be Made Of

As a kid summers equaled two things for me: Beach days and movies. Today, summers equal two things for me: Work and movies. Maybe I’m juvenile , but the wide-eyed girl in me still correlates summer days with classic coming-of-age films (think of cult classics like The Sandlot, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or the more recent Super 8). They’re the stories that deal with both the mundane and adventure of living life day in and day out. They’re the films that, instead of making you wish you were someone else, somewhere else, help you see the magic of life right where you are.

Coming upon 2013 one would’ve expected to be viewing the greatest summer blockbusters of all time. After all America has lead the way in this great storytelling innovation, we call film, for years now, making mammoth leaps in cinematography, sound editing and visual aesthetics. So, it’s fair to say we should expect to be watching some seriously stellar dramas this summer. But alas, as I pull up my Flixter App to find the hottest films out this weekend to be The Internship and Fast & Furious 6, I am slightly underwhelmed. While the quality of movies has withered down to lean on tried and true directors such as Spielberg, Ron Howard and the more recently recognized contenders like Ang Lee and Kathryn Bigelow, up and coming great film-makers (and thus great films) seem fewer and far between. But creating a great movie nowadays that can meet the demands of American audiences is no small endeavor. 

The industry has heightened our senses to the max, to which point I question, am I paying $10.50 for amusement or a story? Now summer blockbusters ride on preconceived adventures, Marvel Comic sequels and flat plot lines that bank on dynamic duos (The Internship) to flood the screen. Though I realize not all of us are movie-goer to be challenged, changed or to even uncover some sliver of truth. And while these are the very things that make a perfect picture (for me, at least), what was originally sought after to make a great movie is a great story, and an original one at that.

Mud is such a film. 

Opening on the wide, murky waters of the Mississipi River the story begins with two young Arkansas boys who’ve taken off down stream to a desolate island. They find an infamous boat that’s been rumored to have been lifted and hurled up into the trees by a hurricane. The boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who carry a adventurous and equally mischievous chemistry like that of Stand By Me or Goonies, find the boat has already been claimed. 

A fugitive, who goes by the name “Mud,” has been occupying the boat and the island to escape the current mess he’s made of his life. Running from a recent murder, Mud’s head is in the clouds and sights are set on reuniting with his on-again off-again lady, Juniper. Sharing his fearless romantic mission with the Ellis and Neck, Mud is clearly lost and starry-eyed for this “blonde, long-legged… dream you don’t want to wake up from.” 

Ellis is sold on Mud’s heart for Juniper. Living among parents who’s broken love have brought them to a recent separation, Ellis catches hold of these dreams of true love like a disease, wiling to do anything to see Mud’s fantasy of a life with Juniper become a reality. Both boys take off to help Mud get the boat down and in the water. As they run and steal to supply this out-law with every means to sail off, they’re more sold on the mission, more convinced of Mud’s stories and myths and more hopeful that true love will make it all right end. While Mud has been running after the same girl his whole life, he has been running after the same mirage that he’s painted for these boys, and fully convinced himself of as well. But when Juniper’s cycle of wavering commitment and love surfaces, the happy-ending picture begins to fade, revealing the stories and lies that were the very force driving both these boys and Mud. Faced with the honest complexity of “love” is where this coming-of-age story calls all 3 boys to grow up.

Mud has no no crazy twists or turns. There’s no unbelievable visuals or imaginative world on that island off the Mississipi River, and in fact we never even see Juniper and Mud touch, let alone share a kiss. More is spoken of than seen and more hoped for than found. While some might find such a plot that runs so true to real life a disappointment (as life often can be), writer and director Jeff Nichol’s has brought us back to the stuff original films are made of, leaving you feeling like you’ve just watched a present-day adventure that was made in another decade.

While many movies might be your explosive, heart-pounding, steamy-love-making, blood-drenched summer blockbuster fix, you will find few films carry out such a clear story of the adventures of life and love as Mud does. Most movies today reach so far to fill so many of our expectations, they lack the depth that movies originally were made for.

If only more movies could drive a story as clear as Mud…