A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mud is a nuanced coming-of-age drama about two 14-year-old boys who befriend a mysterious man (Matthew McConaughey) with a dangerous past. Expect plenty of tense sequences, fist-fighting violence, one big shoot-out that leaves several men dead, and a fair bit of strong language (the boys say "s--t" a lot, as well as the occasional "bitch," "ass," and more). As for sexuality, one of the boys is smitten with an older girl, and they share a couple of kisses; his friend asks about her "t-tties" and is excited to find a stash of old Penthouse magazines (no graphic images shown). An uncle is known for "doing it" to the song "Help Me, Rhonda" and gives the boys terrible advice. Despite the film's language and references to adolescent and adult sexuality, Mud is the kind of thought-provoking film that teens and parents could watch and discuss together.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Fourteen-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), have made an awesome discovery on a remote island off of the Arkansas Delta where they live: a beautiful boat nestled perfectly in a large tree. But when they climb the tree and scope out the boat, they discover that someone has already claimed it -- a mysterious unnamed man (Matthew McConaughey) who asks them to bring him food. At first they're hesitant, but Ellis convinces Neckbone that it's the right thing to do. During clandestine subsequent visits, the boys discover that the man's name is Mud and that he killed a man to save the love of his life, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), whom he's expecting to join him so they can run off together on the trapped boat. Back at home, Ellis deals with a crush on a senior girl and parents on the brink of divorce, while Neckbone, an orphan, lives with a charming womanizer of an uncle (Michael Shannon). When bounty hunters and the family of Mud's victim descend on the town, the boys face the consequences of aiding an escaped murderer.
Is it any good?
MUD is the sort of movie that stays with you long after the credits roll. Writer-director Jeff Nichols -- himself an Arkansas native -- has established himself as an actor's director with this independent drama that's so impressive you'll find yourself quoting the best parts to other people. Clearly Nichols has a soft spot for his home state, because he depicts it -- the poverty, the Piggly Wiggly, the rough-knuckled residents -- with tender, loving care. Even the perilous snakes swimming in the river are given both a symbolic and literal importance in the story. And what a simultaneously unique and age-old story it is: boys learning about what it means to be a man from a man who's both wise and dangerous.
The joy of watching Mud is threefold: the lush cinematography, the fabulous script, and the poignant portrayals from not only McConaughey, who delivers a career-best performance, but also the boys and the supporting cast. Sheridan's Ellis, the heart of the story, is a true Romantic who falls under Mud's spell because he yearns to believe that men will do anything to protect their love -- unlike his father (Ray McKinnon), who has apparently "given up" on his mother (Sarah Paulson). Lofland's Neckbone, on the other hand, is the movie's comic relief and voice of reason. The always amazing Sam Shepard has a pivotal role as a retired Marine sharpshooter who knew Mud as a boy, and Witherspoon pulls off a much tougher, sadder character than she usually plays. A touching story with terrific acting, Mud is everything that's good about independent films.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the similarities between Mud and other stories about kids who befriend enigmatic older characters, like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird. How does the movie contain elements of both a Southern Gothic and a coming-of-age story?
In what ways does Mud's setting influence the boys' personalities? How are they different than the people they consider "townies"? What does Ellis' father mean about enjoying the river while he can?
There's a lot of talk about love and relationships. What relationship models do Ellis and Neckbone have in their lives? Are any of them positive? Why is Ellis so heartbroken about Juniper and Mud's relationship? What are his views on love?
Do you think Mud is a man worth helping, or not? On the one hand, he's a criminal and a known liar, but on the other, his actions seemed justifiable by his love. The filmmaker, like the boys, doesn't judge Mud too harshly -- but what about you?
- In theaters: April 26, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: August 6, 2013
- Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Tye Sheridan
- Director: Jeff Nichols
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 130 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking
- Last updated: March 13, 2020
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