I spoke this afternoon with Mud director-writer Jeff Nichols — a nice Austin guy, calm and bright and gifted. We sat for 15 or 20 minutes in the Four Seasons bar/lounge, but the music was so loud I have a feeling it’ll be hard to hear him when I edit the recording tomorrow morning. Any way you slice it Mud (Lionsgate/Roadside, 4.26) is one of the year’s best so far. A mature, well-honed coming-of-age story about love, bonding, betrayal and illusion. Not a drop of treacly sentiment, no pandering to the saps.

Mud director-writer Jeff Nichols.

I don’t know how well Mud will perform (the title may prove a roadblock for some), but I know that the decision by costar Reese Witherspoon‘s publicist to cancel her client’s appearances on two or three talk shows was a rash and cowardly thing. I know this didn’t help Mud‘s prospects at the box-office and that it almost certainly hurt to some degree. Witherspoon’s girly-girl fans wouldn’t have attended in huge numbers but a certain percentage would have come, and now that percentage will be smaller.

The publicist didn’t want Witherspoon discussing her recent arrest a few days ago after getting mouthy with a cop. It could have been laughed off. Witherspoon could have made herself look loose and cool. Who hasn’t made a mistake after drinking too much? What celebrity doesn’t expect to be treated with deference, especially after they’ve had a few? How many hundreds of times have we read the quote “do you know who I am?” She could have woman-ed up and faced the music like Hugh Grant did after his blowjob, but she chickened out.

Repeating for clarity’s sake: Mud is steady, solid and delivered just right. One of the finest Southern-flavored dramas about small-town rural values that I’ve ever seen, right up there with Sling Blade, Tender Mercies, The Straight Story, The Trip to Bountiful.