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A terse coming-of-gay dramedy, The Mudge Boy boasts all the ingredients necessary for maximum indie voltage: a socially awkward teen protagonist with a funny last name; a bland, anywheresville setting; and a supporting cast of intolerant yokels to whom urban audiences can feel superior. Director Michael Burke’s first feature arrives fresh from the Sundance incubator (his screenplay was developed at the writers lab, and the completed project debuted in competition), but despite its chic pedigree, the film projects a shy modesty, a virtue largely attributable to Emile Hirsch’s unflashy performance as the titular 14-year-old farm boy—an outcast with many eccentricities, not the least of which is his tendency to stick the head of his pet rooster in his mouth.
Farm animals, being the object of much teenage sexual experimentation, provide a significant backdrop to this tale of homo awakening. Duncan Mudge meets his first crush, Perry (Tom Guiry), over the wet muzzle of a plow horse, and they subsequently bond in cattle barns and chicken coops. Burke renders his protagonist’s dysfunctionality in mile-wide strokes: Overly attached to the memory of his deceased mother, Duncan wears her clothes around the house, to the consternation of his stoic father (Richard Jenkins). Needless to say, Duncan’s oral/poultry fixation registers as a kind of fellatio, while his name (Dunkin’ Fudge) presages a rape scene involving the increasingly homophobic Perry. Goofily handsome, Hirsch inhabits his character’s outsiderness with compassion, whether he’s warbling a hymn to an inattentive church congregation or sweetly ingratiating himself to the local cool kids. The Mudge Boy ultimately tips over into teary reconciliation, but at least it’s a movie that readily admits to wanting its chicken and eating it too.