Netflix Hidden Gem #77: The Mend
Director: John Magary
Synopsis: Mat and Alan, estranged brothers, reunite just before Alan leaves for a vacation with his girlfriend. When he returns sooner than expected without his girlfriend, Alan finds Mat and his family have moved into his apartment.
Overview: What makes for a great directorial debut? Before successive features can ossify a style into a recognizable brand, how does the up-and-comer distinguish themselves from the horde? Making a solidly good film certainly isn’t enough. While something like The Shawshank Redemption is clearly a decent film, it’s difficult to believe that even its most ardent fans (and there are, uh, a few of those) could possibly make claims for Frank Darabont as genius autuer from the outset. On the flip-side, a film as conceptually half-baked and perhaps a bit tedious as this year’s Swiss Army Man can still be enormously exciting as viewed through the lens of what it promises. So clearly, pure directorial skill stands on its own from quality, and it’s as recognizable as it is difficult to define in words. What to do, then, with John Magary’s The Mend; a debut not only hugely auspicious and singular, but also kind of glorious on its own terms. Well, you freaking watch it. That’s what. A quick guide on how to do that:
Watching The Mend is choosing not to understand. It’s a “big huge monumental symphonic orchestra” of a film with a whole lot going on— much of it completely non-sequitur. Take the dizzying opening, a flurry of increasingly frenzied shots introducing us to Josh Lucas’s sardonic Mat as he is seen being kicked out of his girlfriend’s apartment (for reasons we never learn, but they appear to have something to do with cunilingus), dumping a drink on a character who we will never see again (for reasons we never learn), and crawling pathetically across a subway platform (for reaso- that’s right). All this free-associative madness (paced like a bat out of hell) might very well drive literal minded viewers insane. And perhaps it already did, the film currently sits at a head-smackingly low 5.7 on IMDB. But those who can tune into its particular visual rhythms will surely be delighted—especially if they love Desplechian peephole-irises.
Not that Magary is any less a writer than he is a director. Quite the contrary. He’s the increasingly rare dramatist for whom character is plot, not the other away around (as it is in most of the tepid indie comedies that The Mend wipes the floor with). As a friend noted, “it’s great to see a film where a fight isn’t an ‘inciting event’ but just a fight.” His characters are fundamentally combative individuals, who when confronted with actual conflict tend to slink into their chairs, defeated. The quivery Hitchcockian strings that serenade them through the faintly saturated streets of New York seem to impend some kind of comeuppance, one that never arrives.
Though, for a film harboring so much anger and hurt, The Mend is practically joyous. It’s practically overflowing with strange romance and riotous humor, often in the very same line (key offender: “make me a fucking sandwich”). An absolute essential for anybody who cares about the future of American cinema, and one of the very best films of 2015.
Featured Image: Moxie Pictures