THE MEND is maddening yet mesmerising

mend_xlgRating: ★★★

Walk into John Magary’s The Mend sober and you’ll come out with a hangover. A deeply inebriated, experimental film with a low hum narrative motor, it stumbles around in drunk and disorderly circles, occasionally punching the air in moments of angry clarity, before groggily flopping back down into depraved delirium. While the woozy, lo-fi haze that hangs over Chris Teagu’s camerawork  is sometimes like peering at the characters through the fog of their own liquored-up breath, there’s a charismatically intoxicating performance at the bottom of the bottle from Josh Lucas, whose reprobate rebel without a cause is as mesmerising as he is maddening.

For a film that doesn’t know where to begin or end and is content to reject anything resembling narrative development in the middle, it’s difficult to discern Magary’s intentions. There’s very little plot but a whole lot of dialogue, wherein underwritten characters give overwritten speeches about frustrated life ambitions and how nobody seems to understand them. Drunken rants indirectly tell us the story of two estranged brothers whom one can scarcely believe came from the same womb, but whose abandonment issues have them circling the same drain.

Sent packing by his girlfriend (Lucy Owen) for no particular reason other than everything about him suggesting the dangerous volatility of an impossible-to-live-with liability, Mat (Lucas) goes on a bender, and after getting kicked out of bars and the cafe he falls asleep in, later winds up at his brother Alan’s (Plunkett) grungy apartment where he and his girlfriend are hosting a party. With three generations gathered and drinking out of red solo cups, Alan and Farrah (Mickey Sumner) are still living like students, despite their college days being well behind them. The unhappy couple are due to set off the next morning for Canada where Alan plans on asking Farrah to marry him, but an introductory, graphically heated argument over their dysfunctional sex life with guests in the next room doesn’t bode well for his proposal.

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Enter Mat, who prowls around the party encroaching on people’s personal space, his directness and forceful flirtations disarming and deconstructing the ageing hipsters around him. Angry but alluring, Lucas scowls like the A-list movie star who never was and should have been; he’s got the looks and smile of a more rugged Tom Cruise, his burning blue eyes not masking the calculations of a Tinsletown robot, but dark, wanton, self-destructiveness. Oozing as much dangerous charm as he does old Hollywood sex appeal, put a beard on him and Lucas becomes just as scary as Josh Brolin in Labor Day.

While his brother is away, Mat stays on, trashing the place more than it is already, breaking things and not cleaning up the blood stains he leaves behind, territorial markings that confirm the change in the household when Alan returns from his trip without Farrah. Alan adjusts to the challenge of rooming with his slob brother by drinking as much as he does, a point at which the film becomes a very New York story about the precious value of every inch of space in cramped qaurters. Driven mad by their squalid surroundings as much as each other, the sense of claustrophobia comes completely from the physicality of the performers and how they relate to one another in a small space, rather than canted angles or lenses.

As more booze is downed, Joseph Krings’ editing becomes more fragmentary, rambling and ragged like Scorsese’s similarly experimental, unfairly forgotten debut, Who’s That Knocking at My Door? It’s a connection that helps explain the use of classical music and iris shots, from which the cinephile can sense Magary pining for an era and a type of filmmaking that’s all but vanished.

Though punctuated by punkish cutting, the directionless drama unfolds slowly and naturally, a strangely compelling, meadtative examination of upbringing and the difficult bond between brothers we don’t get to choose. Its meandering pace is challenging and requires patience, yet the interior rhythm is so cocooning, we barely realise months have gone by when the brothers finally emerge out onto the street in daylight. It’s a film that makes you feel like the visitor whose weekend on a friend’s couch has turned into weeks and having overstayed their welcome, now longs for their own bed.

First published by Vérité Film Magazine on June 22, 2014

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