What would you do with a chicken?
Ever stuck a chicken's head in your mouth? To, I think, most of us not growing on a farm, this seems a very odd, freaky sort of thing. The Mudge Boy is about that sort of thing, and we get to see the old chicken's-head-in-the-mouth trick enough times it starts to become ordinary, but ordinary is not what this film is trying to be.
We start on a typical low budget set of shots - a woman rides a bicycle through lush green forest, carrying eggs in cardboard trays in the front basket. The dirt road becomes steep, she gets off and pushes the bike. At the top of the hill, having huffed and puffed up, she gets on again, and pauses a second before falling over onto the side of the road, dead.
That is the Mudge boy's mother. Duncan Mudge, to be precise. He now lives with his poorly communicating father on the family farm. Duncan is having trouble getting on without his mother, and his father seems to have nothing to offer. He finds solace in one of the family chickens, "Chicken", who he takes with him everywhere, usually in the basket of his mother's bicycle. He sleeps with Chicken too, often while wearing his mother's clothes.
Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Duncan is already known as a weird kid. He is called Chicken Boy by several of his peers that he tries to be friends with. One of these is neighbor boy Perry, who exudes the same bravado and good-old-boy manner of the whole group (mostly the males, actually), but feels sympathy for Duncan and is actually nice to him.
The film meanders to a strange but fitting ending. It's not really a coming of age story, nor a redemption story, merely a kid-skirting-the-edge-of-trouble sort of tale, with a set of interesting quirks to boot.
Richard Jenkins is pitch perfect as the father. Tom Guiry also does wonderfully with the character of Perry, who walks a fine line between friendship and revulsion, both with Duncan and himself. I found Emile Hirsch to be a bit uneven as Duncan, sometimes not quite seeming part of the scene, and once missing what could have been one those "happy accidents" - something unexpected happening, and instead of going with it, pushing on with the scene. Some of this can possibly be attributed to the scant twenty day schedule - a couple more takes here and there might have shored up an otherwise remarkable performance.
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