More complex even than the sister-sister relationship is the brother-brother one. At least, that’s how it comes across in John Magary’s The Mend. Bordering more on drama than comedy, the narrative focuses on the rapport between two brothers, Alan (Stephen Plunkett) and Mat (Josh Lucas), as well as their complications in their romantic relationships.
The first brother we meet is Mat, who seems to be in a nebulous domestic entanglement with Andrea (Lucy Owen), who has a son named Ronnie (Cory Nichols) that we initially think is his. Alas, Mat is merely a leech that ends up getting torn off by Andrea within the first minutes of the film. We are next transported to an apartment off 145th Street, where Mat’s polar opposite, Alan, lives with his girlfriend, Farrah (Mickey Sumner, best recognized as Frances Ha‘s best friend in the eponymous movie). Although it at first appears as though they’re having a dispute in the privacy of their room, Farrah steps out into the kitchen to reveal that a party is going on in celebration of a dance production just put on at the company she works for.
Their intense argument is over Farrah’s behavior during sex, which Alan deems as largely disgusted and disinterested. Instead of allowing him to continue with his diatribe, she puts on a dress and embarks into the other room. It is there, among her guests and co-workers that she notices Mat, propped against the couch as though he’s lived there all his life. When she points him out to Alan, he seems both surprised and expectant that Mat should reenter his life in this manner.
Rather than bothering to catch up with his freeloading tempest of an older brother, Alan tells him that he’s planning to go to Quebec with Farrah, where they’ve pre-planned his proposal. At some point in the night, a longtime friend of their father’s (who both are not on speaking terms with), Earl (Austin Pendleton), pops in with a younger Korean girlfriend and proceeds to tell everyone about the 70s in New York, as well as his sexual escapades with their father in tow. Earl’s presence is, indeed, a larger indication of the crux of The Mend: you don’t really know why something’s happening, but you know it’s at least true to life.
The next morning, in the wake of their drunken semi-revelry, Farrah awakens later than she wished, realizing that they’ve only got ninety minutes to get to the airport. In their haste to leave, they forget entirely about Mat’s lingering, leaving the apartment unwittingly to him for the two weeks they’re going to be gone. Mat quickly takes advantage of this fact by settling in as though he’s lived there all his life, inviting Andrea and her son over after he gashes the bottom of his foot on a broken Heinz ketchup bottle he dropped and didn’t clean up, in a moment characteristic of his foulness.
Although Andrea seems to forgive Mat for his prior behavior, her motive in coming to a stranger’s apartment to stay stems also from her building being fumigated for bed bugs. The awkwardness she feels begins to dissipate right around the time Alan returns home early from Quebec. He reacts to his brother and his neo-family in an unexpectedly detached fashion, perhaps not wanting to be alone in his time of emotional free fall. From this point forward, the dynamic shifts to a more macabre vibe, with Alan and Andrea bonding much more than Mat cares for. To stave off their closeness (not that it’s a sexual closeness, per se), he picks a fight with her and sends her on her way.
With just the two of them to stew in one another’s neuroses, things quickly devolve into a screaming match that includes stabbing a bathroom door and writing impassioned letters that say, “I don’t want to reject you, I don’t want to cut you out. But all you do is disappoint me, every time.” This sentiment, expressed by Alan, is directed at both Mat and his father, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has been largely absent from both of their lives for reasons unexplained.
The conclusion of The Mend is, like life, ambiguous. Even though Farrah returns from Quebec after a period of silence, forcing Mat to leave discreetly with no specific destination in mind, there is something hollow about their reunion, which seems to offer no resolution to the problems of their relationship as Farrah asks, “You hungry?” and Alan responds, “Yeah, I could eat,” to which Farrah counters, “Then make me a fucking sandwich.” As with every alliance, someone must always prove the stronger, more influential being. In Alan’s case, he is more powerful in his rapport with Mat than in the one he shares with Farrah. Unfortunately, the one he wishes to have more clout with is the latter.