This review of Mutt was originally published during Sundance 2023 and contains mild spoilers.
“I feel like I’m in a bad short film at Outfest.”
This was one of my go-to jokes the first couple years after I transitioned. Rejected by a family member? Denied my gender marker change at the DMV? Texted by my crush moments after being harassed off public transit? I’d roll my eyes. Bad trans movie vibes.
What I was really feeling was that my problems were not unique. There can be a solidarity in our shared experiences, but there can also be an erasure of the self. I’m not experiencing these things because I’m me — just because I’m trans. This joke was a defense mechanism to not acknowledge how painful it was to be rejected by loved ones and the world, how painful it was to have my individuality taken away just as I was finally becoming myself.
I thought about my joke while watching Vuk Lungulov-Klotz‘s stellar debut, Mutt, about a trans guy named Feña a year or two into transitioning. We follow him throughout a 24-hour period that includes many clichés of trans life: seeing a pre-transition ex, being asked invasive questions about surgery, reconnecting with a sibling, having an issue at the bank because of a name change.
Watching Feña I thought about my joke and I also thought about the fact that when I made this joke I’d never actually been to Outfest. The trans stereotypes I’d actually seen on-screen were far more harmful than these common experiences. And, in the years since, as I’ve sought out trans media (and attended Outfest), I’ve learned these experiences aren’t actually portrayed very often — certainly not well. Vuk Lungulov-Klutz portrays them so well.
Mutt is split into three overlapping parts. The first follows Feña as he reconnects with his ex-boyfriend John. They dated before Feña transitioned, Feña broke John’s heart, there are a lot of unresolved feelings between them. The second part finds Feña’s sister Zoe showing up unannounced at the restaurant where Feña works. Their mom was transphobic, Feña hasn’t been in Zoe’s life even though she has a very Gen Z attitude toward gender, there are a lot of unresolved feelings between them. And, finally, the last part is Feña picking his dad up from the airport. Feña’s dad lives in Chile, he blames himself for Feña’s transness, there are a lot of unresolved feelings between them.
The stakes of this movie are high but in a very casual, slice-of-life sort of way. Feña needs to find a car he can borrow to pick his dad up so his dad doesn’t think he’s a fuck up. Feña still has feelings for John but isn’t even sure John would be into him now that he’s a guy. Feña needs to get his sister back home before his mom finds out she left. The obstacles that get in the way of these goals are gigantic and mundane — missed calls, locked doors, hurt feelings.
The whole cast is fantastic — the history of these three relationships felt so deeply between the performers. Lio Mehiel makes Feña endearing in his chaos and relatable in his pain. It’s easy to fall in love with him even if, like John, you can assume he’d break your heart. Cole Doman as John adds so many layers to this heartbreak. It is a feat to get me to sympathize with the cis (possibly straight) man who feels scorned in a trans movie — Doman and the sharp writing achieve just that. And MiMi Ryder as Zoe is a burst of complicated energy, Alejandro Goic as Feña’s dad a burst of complicated melancholy, each when the film needs it most.
Mutt is not just about a trans guy having regular trans experiences. It’s about Feña. Just like I wasn’t losing my individuality every time I faced a common challenge of trans life. I was still me. Within each of these experiences are the details that make us who we are beyond our transness, within our transness.
The more beautifully constructed, specific trans stories that are told — like this, like Something You Said Last Night — the less vague these relatable experiences will become. I hope someday a trans person is having a cliché talk with their parent and thinks, “My God. I feel like I’m in Mutt.”
Mutt is now streaming on Netflix.