By Daniel Barnes
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Where in the wide world of fucks did this crazy thing come from?
First-time writer-director John Magary makes an exhilarating debut with The Mend, an NYC-based comedy of ill manners that exudes weird, nervous energy from the opening seconds and never relents. I couldn’t shake this film – it persisted in my mind like a stubborn houseguest. It recalls the Coen brothers in its singularity of voice and tone, offering not a new cinematic language but rather a new dialect, simultaneously tense and liberated, gleaming the edge between fussy and shambling. By the end, you feel as though the film has chewed its nails down to the nub.
The central construct sounds like a Sundance nightmare – two estranged brothers, one a “freelance web designer”/total fuckup (Josh Lucas), the other a seemingly contented office worker on the brink of an unwanted engagement (Stephen Plunkett), stuck together in a Brooklyn apartment to hash out their daddy issues – but The Mend is one of the freshest and most invigorating films of the year.
Music thrusts in and out, the camera fidgets like a nervous party guest, stray shots and shreds of dialogue echo back in strange and unexpected rhymes. The film lurches and staggers like a drunk who can’t figure out how to get out of his own apartment.
Lucas is good for the what the film needs, believably grimy and thoughtless and grossly charming, but Plunkett is the real breakout star here. A little-known actor with a smattering of TV credits and a great screen face (he looks like Jack Black sat on Michael Shannon), Plunkett runs the gamut from pathos to deadpan comedy to bathroom door-stabbing ferocity, whether clutching his cellphone like a lifeline or drunkenly screwing with a production assistant (“He’s very hurt,” comes the crackling plea from a stolen walkie-talkie).
Plunkett’s ability to play a variety of contradictory emotional states is essential for a film that wonders if love means letting go, or if it means holding on for dear life.