Brothers will always compete against one another. It’s just nature.
Because he’s known for pissing-off quite a lot of those around him, Mat (Josh Lucas) gets kicked out onto the streets by his girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen). This leads Mat to many places, the last one of which is his brother’s apartment. It just so happens that on this one fateful night that Mat happens to be lurking around New York City, his brother, Alan (Stephen Plunkett) and his girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner) are throwing a small get-together of sorts filled with booze, cigs, good jams, and most of all, weed. Mat walks in and becomes apart of the party. The next morning, however, Alan and Farrah head out to Canada for a trip they’ve been planning for quite some time, leaving Mat home, all alone, without TV, or working electricity for that matter, either. It’s just Mat and his brother’s apartment for a short awhile and then Andrea and her kid show up, using the apartment as their own source of comfort because their place is currently crawling with bed bugs. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, Alan comes back, clearly heart-broken and upset, which adds a bit more tension and unease for everybody in the who are setting up shop in his residence.
It’s very rare to get a movie about unlikable, self-loathing assholes who, believe it or not, stay unlikable, self-loathing assholes. So often do we get flicks that present a these characters as the kinds that we start off hating the absolute hell out of, and all of a sudden, the revelations begin to come out, the tears begin to stream, and the “sorry’s” are exchanged, and before we know it, these rather detestable human beings become completely different people. Even if it only took an-hour-and-a-half, the characters that we have learned to despise, soon become the ones that we love and want to give a hug to, rather than hold an argument or brawl with.
The Mend is not that movie and it’s great for that exact reason.
Sure, there is plenty else to praise and adore about writer/director John Magary’s directorial debut, but the fact that it takes these not-so-lovely characters, gives them the light of day, allows them to be who they are, and doesn’t hold back on their sometimes unforgivable actions, made me so happy to actually see play-out. Such as is the case with real life, the Mend has no real “villains” or “heroes” – everyone’s just sort of a person who makes mistakes, tries to make up for them, and will occasionally learn a lesson or two about life. However, they don’t always learn lesson, because, quite frankly, they don’t need to; they’re fine just being who they are.
And that’s one of the smarter aspects behind Magary’s craft. Though there’s an awful lot of direction in terms of how quick his camera can jump and move from one scene to another (with an over-aching score to boot), Magary’s more concerned with allowing these characters to show themselves off to the audience, rather than having him do so. This is especially evident in the first-half, where we literally thirty or so minutes stuck in this one, two-room apartment, with a party going on of hardly anybody we know. While it’s obvious that budgetary-issues may have been the cause of this, Magary makes it work because everything and everyone feels realistic.
Conversations, people, beer, and weed, come and go as they please. Sometimes, the conversations are fun, light and chock full of sensible witticisms that only artists from NYC could come up with; at other times, however, the conversations can take dark, serious turns where people begin to argue, yell at one another, and be on the brink of tears. And of course, there are people who oogle at one another one second, only to then be sucking face the next. Basically, this is a lot like many parties I’ve been to in my life and it’s great that Magary was able to work wonders with something as simple and easy-to-film as “the party-sequence”.
But, like I’ve stated before, that’s not all the Mend works well with.
At the center of all the yelling, the anger, the crying, the bleeding, the banging, and of course, the drinking, is a tale of two brothers who, despite not seeing each other a whole lot, still know one another well enough that it makes it easy for them to clash heads, as well as get along and have great times together. Though Magary likes to focus on the fact that these two brothers are different in many aspects, he also likes to point out that they’re actually a lot alike in others. While Mat may not have as much ambition with his career as Alan does, they still have problems satisfying ladies to the fullest extent, in their own respective ways; Alan may be able to socialize with more people than Mat, but at the same time, they’re still able to piss a lot people off because they always seem to voice their unwanted opinions on anything; and, well, if there is one similarity they have, through and through, they both don’t like to hear from their mom and would much rather like to not talk about her, or their dad for that matter, either.
Basically, anybody who has ever had a brother/sister, will know that this is exactly what a relationship such as that is like. And that’s why both Stephen Plunkett’s and especially, Josh Lucas’, are so good; in even the smallest details, they’re able to make us think of and see these characters in different lights than we probably did a scene or two before. While they’ve both got their problems, they’ve also got their traits that make them the least bit sympathetic, as small and as unnoticeable as they may be.
It’s probably more in the case of Lucas’ Mat, who is quite the abhorrent human specimen, but also has that “something” about him that makes you want to watch more of him. He’s lazy, rude, mean, and uninspired with just about every apple life offers him, and yet, why? Why do we want to sit and watch him interact with those around him? Why, even though he’s made it clear that he has no idea what he wants to do with his life (except for maybe a web designer), do we want him to get his shit together, pick up a job, make some money, move off of people’s couches, and live on his own? Why, despite the fact that he sorts of treats her and her son like total shit, do we want Mat to end up starting something meaningful with the lovely Andrea (played wonderfully by Lucy Owens).
Why oh why?
Well, it’s simple: He’s a character we can believe in.
Mat’s someone we could definitely meet in real life; whether it’d be at a party, roaming the streets of the city, or just by pure chance. Would we want to meet him? Probably not, but the fact is that we definitely could strike something of a conversation up with him, realize he’s a miserable person, and move on, happy that we’re done to be talking to him, but wouldn’t mind watching how he interacts with those around him. Lucas is amazing in this role because he plays up the whole aspect that Mat is indeed a dick, but also, one that knows he is and makes no apologies for it. He’s the perfect anti-hero and it’s Lucas’ role to run wild with, which isn’t something I’ve seen him do in recent time. Whether that be because his name may not carry as much weight now that he’s older, or just because he doesn’t choose to be in those huge, mainstream projects, this role makes me hope and pray that there’s more interesting roles from this guy to come.
And the same goes for Magary. Even though the final-act does get to be a bit over-the-top and showy, there’s still so much here that promises that character studies such as the Mend are still alive and well. It’s just a matter of who wants to make them, what they have to say, and whether or not the character’s stay who they are throughout, without trying to smile nice for the camera.
Because that’s how most of people in real life are anyway.
Consensus: Despite the sloppy wrap-up, the Mend still shows a new, bright talent in John Magary, as well as a bright new awakening for the career of the supremely talented Josh Lucas.
8 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire