Emerging from a bustling NYC bar, Feña (Lío Mehie) wanders the street as she speaks to his estranged father on the phone. A rift has developed between them since Feña transitioned, but now he’s visiting New York to see him. In the 24 hours leading up to his arrival, Feña encounters his estranged younger half-sister who is experiencing similar ill-treatment from their mother and his ex-boyfriend with whom he shares a steamy night of sex and a chilly morning of rejection. Reeling from the various blows to his confidence, he makes his way, bruised and battered, to his fateful rendezvous.
Lío Mehie is incredible as Feña. He carries himself with the bravura and scrappiness of the titular mutt, picking up scratches and bruises on his difficult journey. The film features no outright attacks on his person but as his identity is attacked and he journeys closer to his ultimate confrontation with his father his appearance matches his battered image of himself. Mehie’s performance is nuanced and affectionate.
Feña is othered by people around him. Strangers deliberately misgender him or comment on his “Spanglish”. People who knew him before he transitioned ask insensitive questions, fetishize him or make a spectacle of his body, particularly his chest scars. These moments are not portrayed with the typical dramatic condemnation, and indeed sometimes even precede moments of intimacy as Feña seeks affection from those who do not understand him. He’s desperate for a connection and is unable to achieve this with his family. Watching him bridge these gaps and meaningfully connect with his sister and father becomes the real thrill of the film.
Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s camera is intimate and attentive, capturing a tough but believable NYC. The characters have a lived-in quality to their interactions, suggesting deep histories and complex unresolved conflict between Feña and all her friends, families and lovers. Sequences with his found family of friends are suggestive of a life he has created for himself away from his family. The ultimate hope of Mutt is that by persevering and suffering the humiliations, attacks and defeats, Feña may just survive long enough to see the world change.