Monday, September 14, 2015

Movie Review: The Mend

The Mend
Directed by: John Magary.
Written by: John Magary and Russell Harbaugh and Myna Joseph.
Starring: Josh Lucas (Mat), Stephen Plunkett (Alan), Lucy Owen (Andrea), Mickey Sumner (Farrah), Cory Nichols (Ronnie), Louisa Krause (Elinor), Austin Pendleton (Earl), Sarah Steele (Sarah), Leo Fitzpatrick (Michael), Samantha Sherman (Jodi).

The Mend is about two brothers, one is obviously an asshole and the other who isn’t so obviously an asshole, but is one just the same. It is a largely plotless movie, that drifts from one thing to the next, as the pair of brothers – who, evidence suggests don’t like each other very much (then again, evidence also suggests that neither of them like anyone or anything very much) – but who, for a brief period of time, are sort of stick together. The film opens at a party being thrown by Alan (Stephen Plunkett) and his girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner) for their artsy-fartsy friends. The party goes on for nearly a half hour of screen time, and drifts from one person to the next. At some point, Alan’s brother Mat (Josh Lucas) shows up – unannounced - and begins to do what he’ll do for most of the rest of the movie – mock everyone and everything around him. He’s an asshole, most people realize it, but no one much says anything to him. The next day, Alan and Farrah leave on vacation – not aware that Mat is still in their apartment, and doesn’t plan on leaving. He even invites his somewhat girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen) and her 8-year old son to stay with him. We’ve already seen these two together – in a series of quick scenes that has the pair, obviously living together, go from flirty conversation to sex to her screaming at him to get out, in the plan of 30 seconds or so. Alan eventually returns to the apartment – alone – and not wanting to talk about it.

Josh Lucas is an actor I haven’t much liked in the past, but he gives a fine performance in this film – easily the best of his career. He’s clearly a misanthrope, and not the kind of lovable one that indie movies often give us – the ones who say profane and hilarious things, before eventually revealing themselves to be big softies underneath. Lucas’ Mat is going to learn a lesson in the film – he isn’t going to find love with Andrea and learn that he has to grow the fuck up. He’s an asshole, and knows it, but doesn’t much care. Plunkett has the more difficult role as Alan, who outwardly anyone seems relatively normal, but reveals himself to be more like Mat than even thinks he is. In that opening party scene, we gradually come to realize how strained his relationship with Farrah is – with playful banter, turning more serious as Andrea seems on the verge of tears at one point, and Alan keeping his obvious anger bottled up. He told Mat he was using their vacation as an opportunity to propose to Farrah – but even before they leave, it’s clear it may not go as planned.

The Mend feels more real than most movies of this sort do – in part because the supporting characters feel like they have their own lives outside of what we see in the film. In particular, the two women in the movie – played very well by Own and Sumner – could well have been the focus of the movie itself, and the film would have been just as interesting. Both come and go in the film – and are gone for long stretches – but they are just as complex as the male characters in the film.

The Mend is not a great film – it is perhaps a little too obvious for that, particularly in the final act, which ends up going where we think it will – complete with an ending for Mat that is probably a little too similar to the end of one of the great misanthrope’s in movie history in Mike Leigh’s Naked. But what The Mend does feel like is the debut film of a great director – a director who is still finding their voice, and crafting something special. It is a little too obvious that both brothers are assholes in The Mend – and Mat simply has more confidence in himself to fully embrace his inner jerk, whereas Alan basically plays it safe and takes the path of least resistance. Of the two, Mat is perhaps the happier of the two – he has no delusions about himself, but he also is not filled with self-loathing – two things Alan certainly is. And there is a reason why each of them is with the woman they are with – both of whom are probably more like their partners that they want to admit. The Mend is an interesting one – and announces Magary as a major new talent. He hasn’t made a great film yet – but based on this one, he’s going to.

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