Adolescence is hard enough when you’re a normal kid, which Duncan Mudge (Emile Hirsch) clearly is not. A kind-hearted sensitive lad who’s apparently been sheltered his whole life by his mother; Duncan is completely unprepared to face the world when his mom unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. His reputation for weirdness grows as he rides around town on his mother’s bike…with a pet chicken for a passenger. This earns him the scornful and taunting nickname “Chicken Boy” from his redneck townie peers. When he’s caught in bed wearing his mother’s fur coat, he earns the stern disapproval of his father Edgar (Richard Jenkins), a hard-tack farmer who is seemingly Duncan’s polar opposite in every way. Eventually, however, Duncan forges a tenuous friendship with one of his erstwhile tormentors, Perry (Thomas Guiry). The friendship deepens, then mutates into something more complicated and even dangerous as Perry gradually reveals some of his own inner demons.
“The Mudge Boy” is a film that’s every bit as odd, unique, and unnerving as its title character. Suffused with a latent but growing air of repressed homosexuality as the film progresses, director Michael Burke’s film takes a path probably never before traveled as it tries to bring father and son together in the absence of the most significant person in each of their lives. Hirsch is as perfect a choice for Duncan as Jenkins is as his father, while the verdant rural setting is the ideal backdrop for this unusual tale.
It’s difficult to predict where this darkly comic, yet highly moving film is taking its audience, which is a refreshing change of pace in its own right. Yet, by the time “The Mudge Boy” reaches its cathartic climax, it offers up the finely calibrated, rare satisfaction of doing just what it needs to do in order to end a chapter in each of the main characters’ lives. In the process, it also lets its audience know that the people they’ve just met are set up for whatever is to come next.