Reviewed by: Jeremy Mathews

"Confident enough in its characters to tell its story without sensationalism or stylistic overcompensation." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Watching Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s Mutt at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival evoked nostalgia for the festival’s previous decades, when there was a greater concentration of films that were earnest, realist, short and low budget. Of course, the festival never stopped showcasing films that depict members of marginalised communities but there’s an authentic vibe and leanness in this story of a trans person struggling with early adulthood that recalls American independent cinema before everyone had had high-quality digital cameras, tracking gimbals, drones and extensive production resources.

That’s not to suggest Lungulov-Klotz’s feels cheap or clunky — it’s simply confident enough in its characters to tell its story without sensationalism or stylistic overcompensation. The character in question is Feña (Lío Mehiel), a young trans man trying to keep his life together during a chaotic night and day in New York City, in which the past keeps pulling back at him while the present throws out new obstacles. He desperately wants to convince his friends, family and most importantly himself that he’s not a fuck-up, but that proves difficult when things keep going sideways.

The first of three figures from the past that we learn about — but the last one we actually meet — is Feña’s father, Pablo (Alejandro Goic), who is visiting from Chile. Feña desperately wants to give her father a proper, seamless New York City welcome, but much of the film revolves around the struggle of simply picking him up at the airport.

But before that, our hero ends up in an encounter with John (Cole Doman), his ex-boyfriend from high school, before he started transitioning. The two are clearly on rocky terms, but when Feña learns John is in town by spotting him at a nightclub, he’s eager to reconnect and patch things up. The sequence with John, which ends in a sexy encounter at a late-night laundromat, serves as a prelude to the rest of the film, which unfolds over the next day.

Low on cash after being unable to cash a check with his dead name, and without a car after the friend who was lending him one flakes, Feña spends the day scrambling to figure out how to pick up his dad. To ratchet up the stress, his little half-sister Zoe (Mimi Ryder) shows up unannounced after a bad experience with their abusive mother.

Writer/director Lungulov-Klotz lets the drama play out in long takes with natural sound design, allowing the humanity of his characters to come out in both the quiet and the frantic moments of life. His knack for finding telling personal details for characters includes both the everyday struggles of youth and family relationships, along with the uniqueness of being a trans male. For example, Feña may be Zoe’s brother instead of her sister now, but he still has the experience to walk her through her first period.

The title Mutt refers to both Feña’s gender and cultural identity, as well as his general lack of feeling settled and at home in the world. As such, he’s constantly trying to prove himself. But what shines through is that, as worried as Feña gets about how much trouble he and everyone around him is causing, his family wants to see him and be with him. We should all be so lucky.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2023
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Over the course of a single hectic day in New York City, three people from Feña's past are thrust back into his life. Having lost touch since transitioning from female to male, he navigates the new dynamics of old relationships while tackling the day-to-day challenges of living life in between.

Director: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz

Writer: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz

Starring: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic

Year: 2023

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: US

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