Director: John Magary
Cast: Josh Lucas, Stephen Plunkett, Lucy Owen, Cory Nichols, Mickey Sumner, Austin Pendleton
Running Time: 1:51
Release Date: 8/21/15 (limited); 9/11/15 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 11, 2015
There are a few words that could be used to describe Mat (Josh Lucas): malcontent, misanthrope, and, of course, the vulgar term for a certain bodily orifice—the one upon which the sun typically does not shine. He's a walking, talking, and—by the end, barely—breathing embodiment of a wreck of a man. The Mend understands Mat, or it understands that he is not the type of man who can or wants to be understood.
We see him fairly happy at first, as he plays with the child of a girlfriend, although the imagery of the movie's opening shot of Mat's hand grasping the kid's wrist exists in between the realm of playfulness and abuse. That's Mat: He'll smile and laugh before volleying some choicely angry and hurtful words, and he'll continue smiling and laughing at the fact that his intentions have been known and that the effect is what he wanted.
After the girlfriend throws him out of her apartment after some unheard words hit their intended target (He makes sure to plant a big kiss on the kid's cheek before leaving, probably to spite the child's mother some more), we see him aimlessly wandering the streets of New York City, drunkenly crawling across a subway platform, and falling asleep at a coffee shop. We suspect that he's used to this. He definitely seems out of place at the party where we next see him, after he suddenly appears sitting on a couch in the apartment where the party is being held, as if he's some sort of specter that only brings pain and misery.
People like this don't suddenly appear, though. Mat is obviously the product of some pain and misery, too, and that's where writer/director John Magary displays his real comprehension of this character. Mat doesn't talk about that part of his life, and that speaks volumes.
The party is being held by his brother Alan (Stephen Plunkett) and the brother's girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner), and at a certain point in the evening, Earl (Austin Pendleton), a family friend, arrives and begins to regale the crowd with stories of the brothers' father. Mat doesn't want to hear the tales. He becomes visibly uncomfortable, which seems out of character for a guy whom we recently saw appear completely at home on the dirty concrete of a New York City subway stop.
Alan offers a little more information, namely that he hates his father and that he suspects some of that hatred came from seeing his brother hate the man as he does. This is all the background we really need, and Magary, in his feature debut, displays admirable restraint in leaving so much unspoken. These men have been wounded by something in their past. The movie is more interested in the fallout, which is significant enough without getting into whatever it is that might have happened to them.
Mat will not connect to other people, yet at times, we can see him feeling deeply about them. Alan lets his emotions be known—perhaps too much so. Farrah scolds him for his constant state of melancholy and despair. They're about to take a trip to Canada, where both of them have planned that Alan will propose. It's democratic, but there's something unhealthy about it, too.
Mat is inadvertently left behind in their apartment when they leave. He turns it into his own, filthy home (He drops a glass jar, then seems surprised when steps on a shard), inviting Andrea (Lucy Owen), the woman from the opening scenes, and her son Ronnie (Cory Nichols) to stay with him while her apartment is being fumigated. Alan returns from the trip early without Farrah. Whatever is happening with him has driven her away from him, and we already know how Mat behaves when people get too close.
If the characters' histories are subtle, Magary's technique is far from that. Everything here is turned to the top of the dial. The screenplay barely gives us time to breathe before some new argument begins. The performances are exhausting in their back-and-forth between two levels—just on the verge of coming to a boil and an eruption of fury. There are self-aware iris transitions focusing on some connection between characters (e.g., the opening image of Mat's hand and the kid's wrist), and even the score by Judd Greenstein and Michi Wiancko has a cartoonish vibe, with its upbeat, staccato string phrases punctuated by long draws on a violin.
It's obvious that the heightened atmosphere is intentional on Magary's part (Honestly, it's impossible to avoid), but the purpose of that amplification is never particularly clear. What it does do—whether by intention or not—is force us to look between the broad lines of these characters and the situation in which they find themselves—trapped, by circumstances and possibly misplaced loyalty, to spend an extended period of time together. Between those lines, especially in how the brothers' few quieter moments are portrayed by Lucas and Plunkett, are some sympathetic insights into these characters.
Maybe that is the point—that the movie is mirroring Mat's habit of hiding an entire emotional spectrum under a guise of escalated behavior. The Mend might be coercing us to find shelter in this storm. It's there, but it's tough to see amidst these elemental forces.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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