'The Mudge boy': Sad tale of a lost boy and his chicken

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In "The Mudge Boy," writer/director Michael Burke piles on the indie-movie clichés like a stack of pancakes: the sensitive, misunderstood young man; the sexual confusion; the distant father; the arty shots of a beautiful but unwelcoming environment; the pervasive sense of a fragile soul about to encounter a terrible blow to the spirit. And then it throws in one entirely unexpected element: a chicken, named Chicken, with which the aforementioned sensitive farm lad, Duncan (Emile Hirsch), is in love. He demonstrates his devotion by putting Chicken's entire head in his mouth to calm it; which unfortunately serves to misplace our sympathies — we don't exactly identify with the kid doing this, though we do feel genuine concern for the chicken (who clearly needs a better agent).

That this oddly predictable movie (an expanded version of Burke's award-winning short "Fishbelly White") works at all is due to some beautifully restrained work by Hirsch (the beetle-browed star of "The Emperor's Club") and Richard Jenkins (the late Nate in "Six Feet Under") as his father, Edgar. As the events of the film begin, Duncan's mother has died — so recently that we still see three toothbrushes in a cup in the bathroom — and the two men coexist in their tidy farmhouse, sadly and silently. Edgar knows that his son carries around a chicken and occasionally wears his mother's fur coat; he has mostly chosen not to comment on these facts. Duncan, who is regularly taunted by the beer-drinking yokels (that's how the movie treats them) who live down the road, only knows that he is miserable.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"The Mudge Boy," with Emile Hirsch, Tom Guiry, Richard Jenkins. Written and directed by Michael Burke. 94 minutes. Rated R for strong sexual content including graphic dialogue, a rape and language. Varsity.

Cinematographer Vanja Cernjul finds a gentle beauty in the rural landscape, and in the quiet, carefully arranged rooms of the Mudge home, which form a kind of still-life tableau, waiting for an occupant who will never return. But the film is ultimately a painful experience — not because it's poorly done, but because it's achingly obvious what will happen to Duncan. "The Mudge Boy" treads a well-traveled road and needs more than a chicken to be distinctive — it needs a sense of transcendence, a reason to endure its sadness.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com