(John Magary, 2015)
The way Magary makes The Mend feel loose while keeping it commendably tight is a small miracle.
That begins with the first "act" (this feels loose and fluid enough that the notion of a three or seven act structure has no relevance whatsoever) wherein the camera observes a party at the New York apartment of Alan and Farrah (Stephen Plunkett and Mickey Sumner), a 30something couple with bohemian friends. We first meet them in the middle of an argument about sex, and the strains in their relationship - perfectly believable, banal little strains which will be uncomfortably recognisable to anyone who has ever had a relationship - are instantly evident, as is the genuine feeling between them. We have already met Alan's older brother, Mat (Josh Lucas in perhaps his best ever role), a sociopathic bullshitter who gets thrown out of his girlfriend's apartment in the first scene and reels across the city, an absolute raging mess of issues until he winds up at the party.
Alan and Farah leave on vacation in a rush the next morning, unaware that Mat is still there, unconscious in their back room. When he awakens, he moves in, then moves in his girlfriend and her son. And then Alan returns suddenly, Farrah having left him, and the brothers' difficult relationship is put under new and intense strain.
All of this is taken in by Magary in a detached, almost remote fashion. His characters supply the energy and emotion, while he follows them around and misses not a nuance or a wince. His film recalls the work of Arnaud Desplechin (in style) but Mat is a character straight out of Mike Leigh - a manchild without any verbal filter or sense of social graces, like a toned-down American version of David Thewlis in Naked.
But all of the characters in The Mend feel as well-observed as Matt; the film's cornerstone seems to be the way personality traits are passed down from parents, and Alan is as messed-up as Mat, albeit in a more polite and acceptable manner. Their father looms over the action, discussed by an old friend at the party, appearing to Alan in a hallucination, mentioned by both as points of comparison. The films women are just as complex; Farrah dealing with her relationship issues in a more adult way than her partner, and Matt's girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen) struggling with her feelings for him while also trying to raise her boy. The way Matt responds to a natural and growing intimacy between Andrea and Alan is both hilarious and spot-on. That is the film's best quality; it manages to be both well-observed and savagely funny. The characters may not be all that likeable, but they are sympathetic, and their foibles and outrages are genuinely funny.