The lives of trans men and women are still evolving on screen. There has been progress in depicting their lives, but many cis men and women continue to misunderstand the trans experience. A benefit of increasing trans visibility has also allowed more grounded visions of life. Director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz tells the story of a trans man catching up with his past. Mutt tells a familiar story, but shifting the perspective and familiarizing the audience with the troubles facing Feña (Lio Mehiel) make it feel wildly unique.
Mutt follows Feña (Mehiel) over a 24-hour period. Feña’s father, Pablo (Alejandro Goic), flies in the next day. Feña needs to borrow a car, and also runs into their ex-boyfriend, John (Cole Doman), from when they were a woman. Feña also gets surprised when their sister Zoe (MiMi Ryder) shows up at their work. With all these elements of their former life returning, Feña must confront who they used to be, and who they will be moving forward.
Mutt gets into the nitty gritty of the trans experience, but none of this would be possible without Mehiel’s excellent performance. They take on the emotional weight of the movie and handle the burden with an exemplary performance. They bring a subtlety to the role that can only come from a lifetime of feeling out of place. Many actors could be tempted to make a meal of the role, but Mehiel’s confidence to play the frustrations of Feña’s life as daily occurrences only further ground us in the story. This is not an unusual tale, and Feña does not occasionally face discrimination. Instead, Mutt becomes Feña’s life story, boiled down to the microcosm of these pressures.
Lungulov-Klotz understands just how good Mehiel is as Feña. This allows him to frame Mehiel in a string of close-ups that help deliver the emotional punches of the narrative. It’s rare to see a director go all-in for a mostly unknown performer, but Mehiel’s performance warrants the attention. It also adds authenticity to Mutt, allowing Mehiel’s naturalism to dominate the story.
Additionally, Mutt never shows away from Feña’s sexuality. Just because one transitions, they are not asexual. Yet modern cinema rarely lets us see trans characters in this light, especially a trans character that has not completed gender reassignment. Mehiel and Doman make these sequences compelling with their chemistry. The fallout in the character’s minds is even more intriguing, both from how Feña and John react. Lungulov-Klotz handles these delicate moments with care, even allowing the audience to share in the rage that follows.
The world around Feña could be slightly more developed. While we get glimpses of Feña hanging out with other friends (Jari Jones, Jasai Chase Owens), we want more of them. Developing Feña’s through the cis male ex-boyfriend makes sense, but also means we cannot so who they’ve become since. We’re still missing some important character traits that may only come through when spending time in other relationships.
Mutt is a very good film, and Mehiel is a star on the rise. There’s a lot to love in this story, and the emotional complexity presented feels like water in the desert. We need movies and stories that engage with adult, complex themes. Mutt does so beautifully.