MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Mend’ Is Life, Warts And All

Film: The Mend
Starring: Josh Lucas, Stephen Plunkett, Mickey Sumner
Directed By: John Magary

“You got a hairball, bro!” Mat (Josh Lucas), the hedonistic drifter brother of Alan (Stephen Plunkett), screams at his sibling in the heat of a physical quarrel. They’ve had just about enough of each other. The binge they’ve been on subsides and the ugliness of their reality comes to the surface. The Mend is a grouchy, unpredictable and emotionally explosive story about becoming the misanthropic person you always try to bury down deep inside. It’s about so many other things too, but hold up–I need to finish this beer I’m on before shouting out all of the praise that John Magary deserves for his first feature.

To save from spoiling most of the film, I’ll tell you that Mat shows up unannounced during a party held for Stephen’s fiancée’s (Farrah, played by Mickey Sumner) dance troupe in their Harlem apartment. He spreads himself like a bawdy contagion, quipping at every comment made by the guests before hooking up with a girl “who hates her body” in the guest room. The thirty-minute party scene lives in the present like Mat, refusing to give up some tired old morsels of character development in favor of watching these people clash, collide and sometimes be pricks to each other.

Farrah and Stephen wake up late the next morning and rush out the door for a flight to some romantic hiking getaway without realizing Mat’s sleeping in the guest room. Stephen comes back unannounced a day or so later. By that time, Mat already has his off-and-on hook-up and single mother, Andrea (Lucy Owen), staying at the apartment with her kid. Okay, sorry, I’m over-explaining the plot. Let’s just say that Mat and Stephen’s lives get upended by a boozy dose of brotherly love.

The biggest selling point for The Mend comes in the form of Josh Lucas’ spitfire performance as Mat. Lucas, years ago, was kind of shoved into roles made for good-looking and charismatic actors like action hero (Poseidon) or romantic counterpart (Sweet Home Alabama). He always seemed too shady to be playing these popular Hollywood tropes. Now he’s decked out in a scraggly beard with a bit of a gut as Mat, smoking and yelling out profanities at whomever his character feels like verbally dethroning. There’s a deep hurt within him, covered in layers of narcissism, and it’s so incredibly thrilling to watch him burn the world around him. I’m not letting all of the praise go to Lucas, though. Plunkett is the perfect fit for Alan, the brother who can barely hide his anger underneath a buttoned-up façade. It’s almost a movie within a movie watching Alan’s psyche implode.

Magary’s craft is partially what makes The Mend one of, if not the best, movies of the year. Yeah, even up against some movie called Fury Road. A bunch of iris shots keep opening up scenes, like the viewer is being shaken awake into a nightmare. Its undertones are almost dystopian or post-apocalyptic. A helicopter drones overhead and the electricity goes out in the apartment. Things are getting out of control. Mat points and says “so we gonna bomb this bridge or what?” as Stephen cries on Amy. The story purports that even at the lowest point, things can be redeemable. A glum and glib observation by a movie dedicated to tearing down people like they’re posters on a college dorm room wall.

Never has nihilism been this funny, thrilling and touching. The Mend is the movie you should point to when discussing how misanthropy can be so beautiful. That’s the highest praise I have. Now excuse me, I have to go to the nearest theater to see this again.

The Mend is rolling out to select theaters nationwide and then hits Digital HD and On Demand on September 22.


Sam Cohen
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