Day in the life tales are a tired cinematic genre, but they work for a reason. Creating a little image of a person as they go about their daily activities finds a balance between disclosing and withholding, as we learn a lot from their everyday encounters while still striving to fill in the blanks of what came before.
Mutt, the feature debut of writer-director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, has a nice version of this film that we see in passing. We are placed in the shoes of the young Fea (Lo Mehiel) and accompany him across New York City as he deals with numerous relationships, duties, and his own peace of mind, which cruelly appears to be permanently out of grasp.
He just transitioned and has discovered newfound independence, which is tempered by the constant humiliations he receives from even those close to him. Many of these short moments have a lot to offer, both painful and lyrical, but they don’t have much time to breathe. Instead, the film quickly jumps to the next event before the previous one has had time to sink in. It turns a picture that could have been insightful into something hurried and disjointed, to the point of being rather shallow.
It all starts with Fea attending a party. When he comes outside for a call, he appears comfortable. We first hear from his father, who is travelling to the city and wants to be picked up from the airport. The talk is strained, and you can sense the two’s baggage as Fea vows to be there. When he tries to return to the party, he sees his ex John (Cole Doman), who hasn’t seen him since he transitioned.
Fea is surprised to find that he has returned to the region since his mother is ill. As the night progresses, the two end up sleeping together. It ends abruptly, though, as John soon leaves without saying anything, leaving Fea understandably irritated by the brusque manner he handled him.
He and the audience aren’t given much time to reflect on this since he needs to get moving to do all of the essential tasks that day in order to pick up his father. Complications abound, from a sudden visit from a family member to an unanticipated automobile problem that forces Fea to think quickly in order to find a replacement. While Mehiel offers a riveting performance at the centre of it all, the film becomes mired in loops that never provide enough interiority to the characters as it just goes through the motions.
Some of this is really embarrassing, such as when Fea falls while leaping a tube turnstile. He couldn’t pay since his wallet was locked inside an apartment in another clumsy scenario. These mishaps are clearly intended to represent an accumulation of everything that goes wrong, but they begin to seem unnecessarily harsh with little meaning behind them. As a trans guy, Fea already faces prejudice at work, the bank, the pharmacy, and pretty much everywhere else in what remains a strongly transphobic culture.
It all takes its toll, and the frustration in Mehiel’s portrayal in these passages reflects this. However, most of the conversation is written in a stiff and lacklustre manner. Even though everyone in the cast does their utmost to make it sound genuine, it falls progressively flat.
It is well-intentioned to depict in a narrative how casual, yet nevertheless brutal, transphobia may be. The problem is that the more Fea has to justify himself to other narrow-minded characters, the more we lose sight of who he is and what is going on in his own head independent of how others see him. This results in the least compelling version of the story, as it shifts from being about navigating a harsh reality to having a narrative driven by it.
While they are completely different in tone, the way Tangerine, a 2015 slice-of-life dramedy, brought this to life demonstrated how to strike an immeasurably better balance than anything going on here. Mutt is never exploitative, but it still appears to be focusing on the wrong things. When you believe it’s going to leave it all behind, it keeps shedding the most intriguing strands to replace them with ones that never have the same lyrical promise.
This is especially seen in his relationship with John, who, despite his own life troubles, remains a fairly callous individual. While part of the film’s argument may be that Fea’s desire to be with him is purposefully sad, the way this is shown again essentially defines him by his connection with another.
When some of John’s comments in an argument later in the film become very cruel, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand why the film makes him such a main point. The connection that we finally witness between Fea and his father has more facets to it, but it still has some of the same issues.
There is just no substantial development given to the circumstances of his life outside of what everyone else appears to think of him. The little moments involving Fea and his group of pals fly by far too fast, providing no insight into how he lives his life when he is not continually assessed by others.
The texture that provides brightness to these sorts of understated stories is just missing, guaranteeing that what little there is to cling to quickly fades away. When you look back on Mutt’s trip, it is characterised by all the more intriguing avenues it did not take that may have offered greater insight into its primary character.