People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.
With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.
The Mudge Boy
Director - Michael Burke
Country - USA
Year - 2003
Runtime - 94 minutes
Coming-of-age dramas often depict powerful cathartic moments in the lives of the troubled adolescents on display. The Mudge Boy is no different in its approach although it takes this trope to the extreme by showing moments of earth-shattering brutality that make for uncomfortable but enthralling viewing. Emile Hirsch stars as the titular character, Duncan Mudge, - a shy farm-hand who has recently lost his mother and prefers the company of his chickens to that of his father - in an impressive early performance that showcases his talent for tackling difficult roles with aplomb.
Taking his favourite chicken with him almost everywhere he goes, Duncan Mudge is portrayed as a peculiar but endearing adolescent. When Duncan forms a seemingly innocuous friendship with a nearby farmer's son, his strange but gentle nature (and his fondness for his chicken) become a target of ridicule for the other boys in his new social circle. Acceptance is only a few cans of beer away and by contributing money for their drinking sessions Duncan's presence is tolerated. However, his innocence begins to erode away as the affection he has towards a certain member of the group blossoms. As their relationship develops, it is fascinating to see how these two characters handle their emotions. Duncan accepts his feelings as a perfectly natural development but he is treated with disdain by the boy he likes, who happens to be grappling with his own personal demons.
As well as the burgeoning relationship with his love interest, Duncan's lack of connection with his father is a source of much pain and frustration for both parties. The death of Duncan's mother has taken its toll on his strict father, and the two struggle to carry on with the weight of such grief almost crushing all that remains of the family life they share together. Duncan’s father is pleased to see him socialising with other boys of his own age but fails to see the inherent danger his son may be in as he is too immersed in his own world of hurt, whilst Duncan is too estranged to open up to his father.
The Mudge Boy may be full of quirky and offbeat characters but Director Michael Burke takes you on a dark and disturbing journey through their lives. His penchant for showcasing a raw and unadulterated version of events takes the sheen off a story that at first glance could be the start of a black comedy but instead leaves you reeling in disbelief. This is by no means a bad thing but viewers with a sensitive disposition may wish to approach the film with caution, particularly when the underlying adult themes come to the forefront towards the final third of the gripping story.
The provocative subject matter of The Mudge Boy means that it is a demanding experience in parts and this may be a contributing factor to why it has slipped under the radar. Recommending a film of this ilk can be a risk but I am wholeheartedly endorsing it as an essential coming of age drama that deserves to be better known. Burke has crafted a poignant tale with a courageous star-making turn from Emile Hirsch that will certainly be appreciated by anyone who seeks out this overlooked gem.
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If you take the time to watch The Mudge Boy then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!