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By Jessica Tomberlin
DIFF Writer

ON SCREEN
THE MEND
Sunday, April 13 @ Angelika

In THE MEND, Mat (Josh Lucas) is a reckless drifter who crashes a party when he shows up unannounced to his brother Alan’s (Stephen Plunkett) apartment after a heated fight with his girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen) causes the couple to breakup. Meanwhile Alan and his girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner) are set to take off the next morning on a vacation that could change their lives forever – if Alan proposes as Farrah expects him to do.

Left to his own devices, Mat makes himself at home in Alan’s apartment, and even opens it up to others when compelled. Alan returns home early – sans Farrah – to find his home has been taken over by vagrants. Though he initially protests, rather than try to control the situation, Alan later decides to give into his invaders.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 3.53.05 PMWhile we’ve seen stories of sibling rivalry portrayed countless times before, writer/director John Magary offers a refreshingly authentic look at the complicated relationship between siblings in his narrative feature debut, THE MEND.

DIFF: John, What made you decide to focus your feature debut on the complicated relationship that exists between siblings, and how much did you pull from your own experiences with your brother?

John Magary:
I was interested in the healing process between these two brothers, emphasis on “process,” and how these two men can speak to each other with such relentless, brutal honesty, taking things to a daily breaking point, yet remain close…I really just wanted to capture a cycle of the brother-brother relationship–a few days, a series of wounds. I was influenced by my relationship with my own brother, but neither Alan nor Mat is directly analogous. They’re dual composites–like us in many ways, very unlike us in many other ways.

DIFF: I know Myna was really involved in the writing process, can you share a little bit about that collaborative process and how you worked together to develop the story?

JM: Myna was developing the story with me from the beginning, through drafting the script, through the shoot, and through editing, the ideal creative producer…I had certain scene ideas, certain images I wanted to encounter. Myna and I, and our friend Russell Harbaugh (himself an identical twin), holed ourselves away for a week in a mold-infested house in upstate New York and mapped out a pretty detailed story. Sequences were broken up into scene beats. Color-coded note cards, the whole enchilada. Often, Myna and Russ would toss around ideas with each other, and then throw them at me to see whether or how I would react. Myna described me at one point as “The Wall.” Every scene and every character were, to varying degrees, filtered through our three sensibilities.

DIFF: I’m also wondering about the development of the female characters specifically, while are flawed and therefore not always likeable, they also feel very authentic and multidimensional in a way that I think is rarely achieved in today’s cinema.

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 4.06.02 PMMyna Joseph: The goal in this, and all of our writing, was to permit characters to exist outside the requirements of servicing the central drama–we approached these characters with the expectation that they each have their own internal drama and narrative. That’s how we all move through the world, and making the film reflect that was a priority. During the story development process, we each became experts, to vary degrees, on various characters. Andrea was someone very recognizable to me, and as John was writing the script we’d discuss her. A critical aspect of Andrea’s world view that emerged for me is that part of her need for Mat is his instability–and how that instability makes her feel about herself.

DIFF: The way the scenes play out feels really organic, almost like you’re just watching these characters in real life, was that something you were conscious of when filming?

JM: As evasive as this might sound, I guess the purpose through writing, shooting, and editing was to remain devoutly goal-less. There’s a setup in the film, but it’s a minimal one: older brother comes back, won’t leave, younger brother must deal with this while handling his own personal miseries. As far as we were concerned, we had a beginning, middle, and end, and that was enough – as you say, “just watching these characters in real life.” That was the story. We wanted it to pass over the audience with the weird, mixed up volatility of life. I’m not sure the audience really ever knows what’s going to happen next, and yet it’s not as though this is surrealism or dream logic – the mundane, oddly relentless mystery of it makes me happy.

DIFF: The “dark comedy” can be a difficult genre to master in terms of balancing the tone between drama and humor. Was that a challenge for you at all, and how did you approach that aspect of the film?

JM: In terms of balance, one of my major goals was to embrace all tones all the time. To play a dark scene next to a more traditionally comic scene next to something bordering on surreal. It’s tricky, particularly in the edit–how far off can you throw the balance? But tonal instability was kind of a founding principle of this film, on par with story.

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