Unpredictable, intriguing look at brotherly love in ‘The Mend’

Nothing feels especially new in the first 10 minutes of “The Mend”; after that, almost everything is unfamiliar.

A black sheep, Mat (Josh Lucas), shows up at a party given by his straight-arrow brother, Alan (Stephen Plunkett). Mat’s got the leather jacket and the crusty attitude, and we dutifully note the differences between him and his sell-out brother, a guy dominated by his dancer girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner, the daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler).

The couple is about to go away to Canada so Alan can propose — Farrah’s planned the whole thing — which means shiftless Mat can crash here, uninvited, for a few days.

Nothing works out quite the way you expect. The party goes on long after its usefulness at introducing the characters has worn off, taking on a peculiar, early-morning fuzziness. Alan returns from Canada early, for reasons he doesn’t explain — and he’s alone.

Mat’s most recent shag, Andrea (Lucy Owen), comes over with her son because her apartment has bedbugs. Most importantly, the obvious differences between the siblings turn out to be not so easy to peg — well, aside from the fact that the two actors look absolutely nothing like each other.

Most of the action takes place inside the apartment, except for a few interludes — a mystifying visit to an uncle’s place (the character is played by old pro Austin Pendleton, who hogs centerstage with the greediness of the lifelong supporting player) and a much-needed fresh-air ramble around New York City.

Writer-director John Magary, making his feature debut, stretches the tempo in interesting ways, and we get used to not having scenes tied off neatly or odd references explained. (I’m wondering what happened to the singing partygoer who used to be a member of his college’s madrigal society — there must be a story there.)

The longer it goes on, the more you can appreciate how Magary is exploring something intriguing. If the characters keep eluding the expectations we had for them in the early reels, maybe we can drop our expectations altogether and really watch what happens.

I’m not convinced “The Mend” works out in an entirely coherent way, but it’s fun to watch it bop around. Part of this is seeing fresh faces; Josh Lucas is a movie veteran, but the other leads have not had a chance to stretch out this much in a film. Wherever Plunkett, Owen, and Sumner go after this, they’ve acquitted themselves nicely when handed some very meaty chances.

“The Mend” (three stars)

Say this for John Magary’s indie drama: You can’t predict where it’s going from one moment to the next. Shiftless Josh Lucas intrudes on the New York apartment of straight-arrow brother Stephen Plunkett, but things between them (and their girlfriends) are not as clear-cut as they seem.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for language, violence

Showing: Northwest Film Forum

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