The Mend is the debut feature from New York writer/director John Magary, and unlike most debut features, the indulgences that mark it as a first-time effort are the things that make it so exciting to watch.
Seemingly taking François Truffaut’s maxim of “every minute, four ideas” as words to die by, it’s a low-budget, small-scale film that nonetheless bursts at the seams with invention – you get the impression that every line of dialogue, camera movement, cut, music cue, surreal flourish and sight gag (et cetera) that Magary wanted to include in a film has been not only worked in, but that the script itself has been reverse-engineered to accommodate a notepad’s worth of jotted-down ideas.
For what is ostensibly a naturalistic, slice-of-life study of the emotionally fraught relationship between two North Manhattan brothers (superbly played by Josh Lucas and Stephen Plunkett), this go-for-broke approach initially seems like an ill fit, but Magary has the confidence in his idiosyncrasies – which start from the very first shot of a silent-film-style iris-in on a man’s hand grasping a child’s arm – to make them add up to something. He also has a great ear for profane, scabrous dialogue; an early, tone-setting party sequence plays like a perfectly cringeworthy appropriation of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? via Noah Baumbach, while the film’s soundtrack of everything from post-punk to Brazilian psych rock to jazz and classical music further accentuates the prickly, unpredictable energy that Magary expertly cultivates.
Ultimately, the insights imparted about inherited emotional flaws are less interesting than that energy, but fortunately, Magary puts the emphasis firmly on the latter, and steers the story clear from entering male-weepie territory. It’s a film that articulates the ineffability of family bonds, reinvigorating potentially familiar character dynamics through a fresh cinematic voice, finally standing out as one of the strongest American independent films of recent years.
The Mend is showing at Possible Worlds Film Festival on Thursday August 14.