Cole Doman and Lío Mehiel in "Mutt" Source: Strand Releasing

Review: Heartbreaking Performances Bring Heat and Hope to Trans Drama 'Mutt'

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 4 MIN.

"Mutt" follows a transgender man, Feña (Lío Mehiel, "Tales of the City") through what might be the worst day of his life as he wrestles with family issues – need, rejection, a lack of comprehension – and unresolved feelings for his ex, John (Cole Doman, "Henry Gamble's Birthday Party").

Feña needs to pick up his father, Pablo (Alejandro Goic), from the airport, but he's having problems figuring out transportation. Pablo is coming into the country from his native Chile; Feña's mother won't be of much help here, since she's evidently not on speaking terms with anyone in the family except for Feña's younger sister, Zoe (MiMi Ryder), and even that relationship is strained – as becomes evident when Zoe appears unexpectedly at Feña's place of employment, fed up with Mom, ditching school, and experiencing her first period. The situation has all the makings of a farcical comedy, except for the way the family complexities are handled: "She said you were a degenerate," Zoe tells Feña of their mother's refusal to allow the siblings to interact, "and you left because you hate us." The sad truth is that Mom threw Feña out of the house for being trans.

Feña no sooner has the transportation issue worked out, borrowing the car of a friend who's out of town, when things go sideways and he's suddenly worse off than before, losing access to his keys, his money, and the borrowed car. The only person left to turn to is John, whom Feña encountered by chance the night before and, after an exquisitely uncomfortable re-introduction, got high with before tumbling into bed with him. That morning's wakeup was awkward, to say the least ("You can still get pregnant?" John asks, surprised, when Feña makes mention of needing to pick up some Plan B).

Cole Doman in 'Mutt'
Source: Strand Releasing

John's not exactly thrilled when Feña shows up; he's even less enthused that Feña needs to borrow his car; and, initially, he's exasperated that Zoe is tagging along. But it's at this moment, with John driving the siblings back to his mother's apartment, where he will wait until Feña can return the car, that we get a true sense of how things used to be with Feña and John. He's affable and goofy, telling Zoe a corny joke; Feña, sitting next to him, looks relaxed and happy for the first time in an already-long day that's been marred by a fall and gashed forehead, a banker misgendering him, and a pharmacist who, though correctly calling Feña "young man," is clueless about his transgender status.

The real fireworks are yet to come, though, as Feña has an impassioned heart-to-heart with Pablo, furious at his father's inability to understand that Feña hasn't "chosen" to be transgender. Then there's the question of rekindling things with John. He's just as conflicted as Feña about whether hanging out together is such a good idea, on top of which he has family problems of his own to deal with. To John's credit, however, the pain and confusion he's dealing with isn't simply a matter of Feña being a transman. When Feña makes that accusation, John is genuinely shocked. "You've fucked me up enough," he says, unable to overcome the emotional devastation he suffered when they broke up. The wounds are deep, but the love remains real. It's a hard place for the characters to be, and Mehiel and Doman convey the film's emotional power with remarkable performances.

Transgender writer-director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz brings authenticity, poetry, and sexual sparks to his feature debut. More than that, he has crafted a serious, yet approachable, movie that addresses a phalanx of complicated (and, sadly, increasingly political) issues around gender, sexuality, and family dynamics.

For all that, "Mutt" doesn't feel like an "issues" movie so much as a keenly felt, and incisively written drama. Rising above all the other themes the film integrates is that of identity: What's clear throughout is that however broken, troubled, or apparently self-centered Feña might have been in his former life, he's now able to be who he's supposed to be. The more he grows into himself, the more able he will be to show up for those around him. That's the hope amidst the heartbreak, and the humor that the movie encapsulates.

"Mutt" opens in theaters on Aug. 18.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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