Mutt Review: Slice Of Life Dramedy Offers Refreshing Look At Modern Trans Life [Sundance]

The history of transgender representation in cinema has been pretty damn horrible in retrospect. Outside of some significant outliers, one can easily summarize trans cinematic history as being full of cruel jokes, miscasting, and fearmongering. Thankfully, we are slowly but surely entering an age where trans filmmakers can freely tell their own stories for the screen. Unfortunately, it also comes at a dangerous time that seeks to strip them of their humanity.

"Mutt" feels especially critical given how the home state of the Sundance Film Festival, Utah, has recently introduced potential laws that severely limit healthcare access for trans individuals. However, Vuk Lungulov-Klotz's directorial debut shouldn't just be a political tool. It captures how identity is so integrated into many facets of life while also showing how lively trans narratives in film can be. Young New Yorker Feña (Lío Mehiel) is just trying to navigate life – he's got a diner job with a forgetful boss, two nosy roommates, estranged family members, and a complicated love life. He's got a big day approaching, as he's meeting his father for the first time in two years. However, Feña is not expecting the reappearance of two other important figures from his life.

"Mutt" proves the importance of showcasing nuanced and multi-faceted depictions of trans life in a fun, breezy package. With an eye-catching visual style and captivating performances, Lungulov-Klotz's debut is dramatic and comedic in equal measure, making for a delightful watch.

Don't disappear again

As expected, the beating heart of "Mutt" is Mehiel. Their performance as Feña barely feels like a performance at all — instead, their aloof demeanor and quick wits feel like you're watching a documentary or candid recording of them. Perhaps this is partially due to the realistic dialogue that Lungulov-Klotz has written, or maybe Mehiel is just that good of an actor. Regardless, every moment of their screen time feels natural in a way that is usually difficult to convey. By the time the film ends, you'll want to watch more of Feña's life unfold.

The other lives orbiting around Feña are also quite compelling. MiMi Ryder, who plays his estranged younger sister Zoe, is just as smarmy and purposefully detached as any fourteen-year-old growing up in the big city tries to be. However, that doesn't mean she never lets her guard down, as she's able to tell a thousand emotions with just her body language in a particularly tender scene. Alejandro Goic is also solid as Pablo, Feña's father. Arguably the only weak spot in the cast is Cole Dolman as the kind-of-insufferable John, performing awkwardly in a way that doesn't seem intentional.

A day in a life on camera

What also helps "Mutt" fly by is that it is genuinely a pretty movie to look at. Warm hues and saccharine lighting help brighten up New York City, likely courtesy of colorist Joseph Bicknell. They likely exist to show how comfortable Feña is as he's navigating the world on his terms. His world is a little brighter now, and when he's faced with annoying or even distressing situations, the world around him darkens as a result. While lighting changes to signify mood aren't exactly revolutionary, the way they are used in "Mutt" to symbolize Feña's trans-masculinity is excellent.

What the film does best, however, is managing a balancing act that many films like it can't seem to replicate. Transphobia is not the only aspect of daily life as a trans person, but being trans does affect how someone navigates the world. The small reminders of this message, like when Feña has to purchase Plan B after a hook-up, make "Mutt" as natural and nuanced as it is. However, the sum of its parts, including realistic performances and solid writing, makes it more than a great trans film – it's an overall great movie, regardless of the subject matter. Still, in a time where trans people's humanity is cruelly questioned and threatened, trans artists making art celebrating their own existence are more welcome than ever.

/Film rating: 8 out of 10

For more information on discriminatory bills being proposed across the country, visit the American Civil Liberties Union website.