The present life of Mr Eubanks is not a happy one. He is old, he drinks too much, and the bank is going to take away his farm. We see him burning some files, shortly before he loads his one remaining pig, Howie, into his van and goes on a road trip to Mexico. In Mexico, there are people he knows from his past, those better days when he was young, when life was easier, and when people cared about their livestock instead of treating the animals like commodities.
Eubanks is treating Howie with much love and care, more care than he seems to reserve for himself, and more love than he seems to grant his family. Howie is his other connection to the good old days, and it is in Mexico where he wants to reunite Howie with the other people from his past – have everything come full circle, if you will, near the end of his life.
However, Eubanks is old, his destination is far, and some things do not turn out as imagined.
At its core, Mr. Pig is a pretty standard road movie – if you are willing to ignore the fact that one of the travellers is a hog. As with all road movies, the film has at its centre existential questions about the meaning of life in general, and specifically about the meaning of the life and times of the protagonists. Slowly the film reveals additional pieces of the puzzle of Eubanks’s life. The film also uses the opportunity to criticise modern agricultural practices in the mass-production of animals for slaughter, but this does not feel tagged on but is a genuine and organic part of the story.
This English language Mexican film is set in Jalisco state, and I assume that it has also been shot there as the project has received funding from that state. Some beautiful locations can be seen in this film, but it relies more strongly on close-ups of the central characters.
Mr. Pig is a beautiful, melancholic comedydrama that is very competently put together and narrated. At 100 minutes, it feels like there are a good 7 to 10 minutes that could have been cut in order to tighten it a bit, while in turn the ending feels a bit rushed. These are the only two points I might criticise.
As the characters are so central to the story, this film relies heavily on its cast. And with Danny Glover in the leading role and with Maya Rudolph playing his daughter, the filmmakers have found some first-class actors that deliver their A-game here. The supporting cast (mostly Mexican) is also very good, and this includes a nice cameo by Joel Murray.
Without trying to be funny, I would also like to emphasise the quality “acting” of the pig. I have no idea how much work it is to train a hog, and I do not know how much pain and trouble the director might have gone through during the shoot, but the end result is perfect. Howie is a real character in this film.
Mr. Pig was directed and co-written by Diego Luna, a young Mexican actor (known for films such as Y tu mamá también and Milk) who has branched out into writing, directing and producing. By the way, he can also be seen in the upcoming Star Wars film Rogue One.
Despite the melodramatic character that is typical for existentialist road movies of this kind, this film has lots of light-hearted moments and a subtle humour. It is a very enjoyable film, but you have to be prepared to accept its indie character and slow pace.
As this film is more conventional than the inclusion of the pig might suggest, it feels like a 7 out of 10 to me, but the outstanding performances by Glover and Rudolph might nudge it towards 7.5 or 8. Mr. Pig, winner of this year’s Dallas International Film Festival, is recommended for all fans of road movies, and of course for fans of the two lead actors.