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The Mend | Review

Mysteries of Miseries: Magary’s Misanthropic Glance at Troubled Brothers

The Mend PosterThere’s a perverse pleasure to be had watching John Magary’s directorial debut, The Mend, if mostly for its formidable ability to keep its audience uncomfortable, on edge, and annoyed for such an extensive amount of time. It’s mostly shapeless narrative concerning two abjectly miserable brothers has the tendency to grate mostly because of laboriously drawn out sequences basically relaying the same information over and over again with only teases of tangential distraction. Because of this unpredictability, there’s a simmering energy to Magary’s scenario, as if we’re constantly waiting for an explosion that never quite transpires.

Many may find the film’s inability to clearly define what exactly is trying to be conveyed about human nature, familial obligation, heterosexual relationships, and inappropriate or dysfunctional behavior ultimately not worth their time. A meandering running time of nearly two hours doesn’t exactly assuage these anxieties. Yet, it’s an assured, praiseworthy portrait of idiosyncratic filmmaking.

Mat (Josh Lucas) seems your run-of-the-mill deadbeat boyfriend, kicked out of his girlfriend Andrea’s (Lucy Owen) New York City apartment for unknown reasons. Moments later, he turns up unexpectedly at his brother Alan’s (Stephen Plunkett) place, who is in the midst of throwing a party for his girlfriend Farrah’s (Mickey Sumner) dance company. A series of bizarre, sometimes uncomfortable conversations transpire and we learn Alan is about to fly off to Canada to propose to his girlfriend. The next morning, Alan leaves Mat alone as he leaves, while Mat stays on and basically makes a mess of things. Andrea pops up and decides not to leave while Alan suddenly returns home early…without Farrah.

Much of The Mend’s success rides on the shoulders of Josh Lucas’ performance, the consistently underrated actor plumbing the depths of this slovenly, obnoxious characterization with definite zeal. His Mat is the black hole that sucks in everything surrounding him, so perhaps it’s not surprise that his presence exacerbates the impending absence of his brother’s long term girlfriend (something granted a unique, observant book-end). Stephen Plunkett charts a more observational arc as Alan, but is ultimately outshined by Lucas.

Magary develops a palpable discomfort with sequences that read like incomplete sentences. Formerly introduced characters, like their dad’s old pal played rousingly by Austin Pendleton, who turns up later on in near infantile state, help produce a frightening off-kilter feel going on outside of the brothers’ bubble of dysfunction. Lucy Owen’s Andrea appears and disappears in what we understand is a usual roller coaster relationship she unfathomably shares with Mat, but despite some extraneous explanations about their estranged father, we don’t ever understand what, if anything, is really wrong with either of them. Perhaps it’s all just a grand gesture, the socially accepted distastefulness of heterosexual, white male behavior and how everyone generally allows it to either run its course or continue indefinitely.

A host of other notable indie names frequent the periphery, and you’ll spy Leo Fitzpatrick, Louisa Krause, and Sarah Steele floating around. Mickey Sumner (daughter of Sting) isn’t allowed the same room to impress as in Baumbach’s Frances Ha, but she’s the mysterious absence providing Alan and Mat the opportunity to bond. Though its main characters are repellant and off-putting, The Mend belongs to the increasingly limited yet brave realm of challenging cinema not giving one damn about such definitions to please, and proves Magary to be a budding purveyor of unseemly behaviors to keep an eye on.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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