Directed by: Mark Pellington
Premise: Four middle aged male friends (Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, and Christian McKay) reunite for a week of partying but a secret agreement made between them sends the group into a self-destructive spiral.
What Works: I Melt With You is an ambitious film about men and masculinity. Director Mark Pellington, who previously directed Arlington Road and the music video for “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam, brings style and visual flair to I Melt With You. The editing, shot compositions, and sound mixing flow together effortlessly to create an atmosphere of foreboding in which the men’s overindulgence and self-abuse will take place. I Melt With You is part of a trend by filmmakers attempting to deal with a contemporary crisis in masculinity, which is also seen in films like American Psycho, Fight Club, American Beauty, and Judd Apatow comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin. I Melt With You is a darker take on the subject, serious to the point of nihilism. The darkness isn’t necessarily a fault so much as it is the logical conclusion from the point at which the film starts. These men see themselves as having reached an ending from which there is no escape but through drowning their disappointment in liquor, drugs, and one night stands. At its best moments—and there are some very strong scenes in this film—I Melt With You displays the spiritual emptiness of contemporary life.
What Doesn’t: The trouble with I Melt With You is the film never really gets past the surface of its themes or its characters. The four men are introduced very quickly in the opening scenes mostly as thumb nail sketches in which the audience gets a feel for each man’s general demeanor and livelihood. But the men are never really characterized beyond that point. In fact, these men fit into well-established stereotypes from other films like Very Bad Things and The Hangover, such as the disillusioned high school teacher, the drug addicted doctor, the corrupt businessman, and the quiet but sullen good guy. This inhibits the audience from feeling anything more about the characters’ suffering and that ultimately undermines the film’s intended exploration of middle aged disillusionment. And that leads to the deeper problem with this film: its ideas are tired and (if not entirely disingenuous) at least a lazy kind of nihilism. By that, it’s important to distinguish between a film like Taxi Driver, in which a man is driven into nihilism because of the overwhelming horror around him and in spite of his attempts to resist it, and a film like I Melt With You, in which privileged white men discover that they haven’t become the masters of the universe that they expected to be, and give up on life in a whinny temper tantrum of abuse and self-loathing. If I Melt With You had more to say about the men’s shallowness or characterized them more fully so that their spiritual struggle was meaningful, the picture might get to something revelatory. But instead the picture goes right for the self-destruction, as though the filmmakers were never interested in enlightenment in the first place.
Bottom Line: I Melt With You attempts to do for middle aged men what The Virgin Suicides did for adolescent women. It falls well short of that goal and, like its main characters, drowns in its own excesses.
Episode: #370 (January 1, 2012)