‘Mutt’ makes the best of what it has to offer

It’s not too often a film shoots in the Upper Peninsula. But for independent film “Mutt,”?the U.P., and more specifically the Copper Country, was crucial to the film’s plot. While the film itself is a mixed bag, the backdrop of the area helps to make it more visually interesting.

Meda Paavola is trying to find her way in life, but her heritage makes it difficult. She’s half-Indian and half-Finnish. She doesn’t fit in with the Native Americans and she doesn’t fit in with the Finns. She’s just a girl trying to find her way in the world and faces opposition at every turn.

But when she meets Neil, a full-blooded Native American, things begin to look up for Meda until their relationship threatens to tear her world apart.

Playing the role of Meda is newcomer Samantha Bach. Bach portrays Meda with a certain naivet, yet is strong. She’s been through a lot of ups and downs in her life and it comes through in her performance. Life hasn’t been kind to Meda and Meda shies away from opening up to anyone, until she meets Neil, played by Mitch Bolo. However, the acting chops of both Bolo and Bach leave something to be desired. Bach and Bolo seem to be simply reciting lines rather than putting true emotion into it. Although it must be said that Bach can pull it together when she’s doing a scene that requires her to be angry (and she’s good at spitting out curse words). For a couple in love, their love seems forced, as if they’re in love simply because the script says so. The benefit of the doubt should be given to both, though, since this is their first time starring in a feature-length film.

Speaking of the script, the entirety of “Mutt” probably worked well on paper, but on screen it’s a different matter. While most of the characters have a flash of kindness or empathy (there is a particular scene where the relationship between Meda and her Aunt Kay is genuinely sweet), they’re mostly concerned about their own heritage and how Meda will help to propagate it. The prejudice that Meda faces becomes chuckle-inducing as almost every person she comes across has some comment on her ethnicity. Although “Mutt”?is based on the true story of Erica Lord and the bigotry she faced, the fact that anyone would get so upset about a half-Indian, half-Finnish woman and the choices she makes is a bit mind-boggling. I?suppose that’s the nature of honoring tradition, but in this day and age it feels dated.

One of the highlights in “Mutt”?are the songs written and performed by Hannah Bethel. They’re catchy and work well for the film’s montages.

For an independent film financed in part through multiple Kickstarter campaigns, “Mutt” looks good. The cinematography makes the most of the surroundings and there are a few ambitious shots, but when you have the backdrop of Houghton and its surrounding areas, you don’t need to do a lot to make it look good. There were even a few shots that reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson.

“Mutt”?is a decent first effort from director Rick Allen. Perhaps another draft of the script would have helped tone down the prejudice and make it a bit more subtle and effective, but it’s still a movie completed and that’s something to be proud of.