The Mend is the story of two brothers, Mat (Josh Lucas) and Alan (Stephen Plunkett), whose hollow lives can be traced directly to their father. Throughout, writer-director John Magary remains indifferent to the agency of the siblings’ emotional issues, preferring to document the tortured fallout of their ineffective upbringing. Mat is introduced as a seeming paragon of domestic virtue in the presence of his girlfriend, Andrea (Lucy Owen), and her young son before quickly flipping into a selfish, psychotic monster. Alan, meanwhile, is introduced expressing dismay to his girlfriend, Farrah (Mickey Sumner), that she won’t let him cum on her face. These initial snapshots of the characters’ extreme boorishness would, in another film, prime Mat and Alan for redemption; instead, the brothers’ actions come to be understood as one of many steps in an agonizingly slow-burning path toward self-destruction.
Magary fleshes out the film’s tone during a party, hosted by Alan and Farrah, that finds an air of thinly veiled hostility pervading the room as intellectuals down drinks and trade barbs, where even a simple conversation about cookies comes laced with malicious intent. One character observes that art is about clarifying emotions, prompting Mat, who’s crashed the party, to laugh mockingly. But Magary doesn’t take Mat’s brashness as a key to illuminate exactly what ails him. The Mend, then, is defined by its staunch refusal to clarify its characters’ emotional issues, marooning them instead in the messes those emotions have wrought.
After the party, Alan and Farrah depart for a Canadian vacation, unwittingly allowing Mat to move himself into their place along with Andrea and her young son, who have temporarily been displaced on account of bed bugs. How much time passes is never conveyed, indicative of The Mend’s disorienting, poetically elliptical style. Mat’s despondent and uncommunicative, hinting that a proposal to Farrah has been rebuffed, but refraining from an explicit explanation. Likewise, the relationship between Andrea and the brothers remains intentionally obtuse, alternating between a possible love triangle and something more maternal. Eventually, she packs up her son and moves on, and the movie plunges into darkness, literally and figuratively, as the power goes out and a series of frenzied vignettes ensues.
Magary repeatedly contrasts events occurring on screen with its cacophonous string score, a dissonance akin to the one you may experience while watching the story unfold. As The Mend’s focus winnows down to nothing beyond Mat and Alan drinking, doing drugs, and picking fights with innocent strangers, every frame comes to hum, perversely and organically, with the tension they bring to the most mundane of actions, such as a late-night dash for ice cream. One keeps waiting for some type of release, the moment when the film spills over into confession, allowing Mat and Alan to address head on the myriad emotional problems guiding them to this imminent point. But the film deliberately denies them such relief, covering Mat and Alan in metaphorical grime and refusing to cleanse them of it. The title ultimately becomes ironic, as Mat and Alan have mended nothing, merely suppressed it, an almost pathological resistance to change that leaves them staggering in the very same place they began.