Feña’s New York odyssey brings to mind movies like “After Hours” or “Do the Right Thing,” where a character crosses many people in a short span of time, an experience intensified by the city’s density. But the film’s always-on-the-go pacing resembles more of “Tangerine,” Sean Baker’s film about two trans women of color in Los Angeles. “Mutt” is structured so tightly there are few moments where the film finally slows down enough to let the characters exist, for quiet moments that allow for conversation and confession. And fortunately or unfortunately for Feña, the majority of these vulnerable moments are spent with his complicated ex. This is not an easy, laid back day, and that pacing can feels exhausting at times.
Lungulov-Klotz’s story also functions like a double-edged sword, especially when it comes to hostile moments like when Feña is misgendered, insensitively questioned by strangers, ostracized by family, or told to hide his trans identity. It’s heartbreaking and frustrating, and he only has so much energy in a given day to cope with people’s ignorance. I can understand how constant rounds of having to justify his existence can wear on audiences already subjected to those same comments and judgments. For some, seeing that oppression onscreen may feel like seeing their experiences represented, seen, and validated. For others, it’s a painful reminder many times over of how the rest of the cis world treats them. “Mutt” offers little in terms of escapism but sticks closer to an intensified version of realism compressed into a brief runtime.
As Feña, Lio Mehiel conjures up a scrappy screen presence that doesn’t feel too polished or too awkward. He’s wounded yet protective, unafraid to point out his ex’s hypocrisy yet still attracted to him and can’t help but let his eyes meet John’s. We see him reluctantly look after his sister, and work through his network of friends for a helping hand in a time of need. In cinematographer Matthew Pothier’s camera, the frame often closes in on his face, his determined stare, his outrage at bigots, his concern for his sister, and frustration over his bad day. He carries the film on his thin shoulders, beckoning the audience to hurry up and follow him to his next stop.