Ellis (Tye Sheridan) live in Arkansas, on a boat-house, floating on a river1. His father earns a living from the river, catching and selling fish. Ellis’ best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), lives with his uncle (Michael Shannon). He hasn’t got any parents.
The boys have heard about a boat in a tree on one of the islands in the river, left there by a storm, or some such. The decide that a boat in a tree is just what they need. It’s be perfect.
There is, however, a problem. Someone is living there. Hiding out really.
And that someone is Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who is waiting to meet someone, but as soon as she turns up he’ll give them the boat, no problem. But, if they could bring him some food while he waits that’d be great. He can’t leave the island you see, so if the boys could help him with a couple of things then he be able to leave and give them the boat so much quicker.
Ellis is sucked in to Mud’s world almost straight away. He is taken in by Mud’s patter and weird stories and one-liners about a shirt protecting him from guns, and how Mud never sleeps in the same spot twice.
And when Ellis discovers that Mud is waiting for a girl he loves then he is totally on Mud’s side. Neckbone is a little bit more suspicious and wary, but goes along with Ellis’ decision. Ellis is his best-friend and he’ll help him out as much as he can.
Ellis is totally invested in Mud’s story and the tale of thwarted love. His own parents are arguing, his mother wants to move into town. Possibly divorce his father. A love story is just what Ellis is looking for.
He sees the world in a simplistic way. Mud’s story about the love of his life, Juniper, makes a huge impact on him, and he would do anything to help that love find a way to work together. But life is not that simple, people are not that simple, and sometimes love isn’t enough.
The one major problem I had with this film probably comes from Ellis’ innocence. He sees only the surface and doesn’t quite realise that there is other stuff going on. But because Ellis is our main POV character we as viewers tend to see only that surface as well, especially where women are concerned. None of the female characters2 come across well. Juniper, for example, is described at a woman who uses men, Mud especially, gets into scrapes and then runs to Mud for protection. But we never get to see any of their stories, to be honest I felt that Mud was a bit of an obsessed stalker and I don’t think I’d want him following me around no matter who I was hanging out with.
And then there is Mae Pearl, Ellis’ romantic interest. Again, she isn’t given enough screen-time to reveal any sort of a character of her own, she’s just a pretty girl there is disappoint Ellis so that he can come to some understanding of how love doesn’t cure everything.
It is a good film, nevertheless, it has a lovely slow unwinding feel to it. And the setting is incredible. It felt like a teenage book in many ways to me, you know, one of those stories like Stand By Me, where the events of a summer have a huge impact on a child/teenager as he moves from being a child but still isn’t quite an adult. With a huge dose of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer thrown in, well, in the setting for sure.
I don’t think I’d watch it again in a hurry, but it was a solid bit of entertainment.