'I Melt With You': Oh, You Men
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies
Opening with slices from four dead-ended lives and a series of stark white-on-black, screen-spanning plaints ("I don't love my wife," "I can't get hard," "I'm scared," etc.), "I Melt With You" screams downer from the get-go. Director Mark Pellington dreamed up this story with writer Glenn Porter, possibly under the delusion they were crafting something like a modern-day "The Sun Also Rises" — if Hemingway's novel about shattered hopes and beleaguered manhood had been penned by a brace of self-indulgent, self-pitying Peter Pans.
Relocating his 21st-century Lost Generation from Spain to Big Sur, Pellington assembles four longtime college pals for an annual reunion-cum-bacchanal in a spacious rental overlooking the Pacific. Hellos and hugs have barely been exchanged before these sad sacks are laboring to get happy, via coke, joints, Scotch and a trove of pharmaceuticals. The last come courtesy of Jonathan (Rob Lowe, looking ravaged), whom we've seen selling drugs to a patient in the chilly prologue. Every once in a while, in between snorts, Jonathan phones his ex-wife to wonder why she doesn't love him anymore -- and why his son calls his stepfather "dad."
Richard (Thomas Jane, who keeps his shirt off for most of the film) teaches English, specifically Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms," to bored brats. Once a promising author, he now mostly postures, a superannuated bad boy with a mat of chest hair and a hot-red Porsche. When some locals join the festivities, Richard tries to poison the dreams of a budding writer, until his girlfriend takes a predictable potshot: "What're you hiding from, old man?" One of his friends wonders why he's still such a skirt-chaser, inspiring he-man to mouth a banality that should be permanently banned from dialogue: "Seems like the better they get to know me, the less they like what they see." (Now might be a good time to throw on a re-run of "Hung.")
Then there's Ron the financier (Jeremy Piven), whose self-esteem has always depended on money. That's led to dipping into other's people's savings, and now he's at the end of his rope, about to be arrested. (Oh, unflappable Ari Gold, where are you when we need you?) A tearful bid for sympathy touches tough guy Richard not at all. But Timothy (Christian McKay, once OW in "Me and Orson Welles"), the fourth member of this motley "band of brothers" (yes, that's what wimps who'd wilt in a war call each other), lays a comforting hand on the moneyman's sagging shoulder. Tim's gay, in permanent, ostentatious mourning for his beloved boyfriend, whom he apparently killed in a car accident.
Some 25 years ago, these lost boys signed a sophomoric pact -- in blood -- to be called in if they failed to live up to their best selves. That over-the-top contract resurfaces during a week's worth of drug-fueled, Sex Pistols-backed debauchery, none of which keeps growing despair and self-loathing at bay.
When John Cassavetes brought three middle-aged "Husbands" (1970) together after a friend's funeral, to yak it up through a long weekend binge, the resulting mind-trip was spiced by colorful male braggadocio and soul-stripping cross-talk -- often improvised. Cassavetes' husbands couldn't stand up to life either, but their impotence didn't sink to the ugly level of "I Melt With You." ("Let's stop the world / I'll stop the world and melt with you" is about as good as mantras get for Pellington's shallow souls.)
No time for therapeutic talk when you're busy dancing drunkenly, bellowing inanities, swimming naked, racing the Porsche, rolling down a sand dune, and mashing up pharmaceutical "salad." Punctuating these revelatory activities are calendar art snapshots (courtesy of cinematographer Eric Schmidt) of the sun burning in an azure sky, footprints in the sand(!), raindrops dripping down a window.
Astonishing how boring the debauchery is, despite a kinky threesome featuring Sasha Grey. And when death crashes the party, the film's histrionic swerve into crazytown leaves one cold. It's clear that Jane, Lowe and Piven believe they've taken on great and challenging roles, deep-dish performances that will credential their acting chops for good. But "I Melt With You" plays like one of those interminable '70s encounter groups where not-very-interesting neurotics had permission to -- hell, were practically obliged to -- break down, sob, scream, act out, threaten suicide.
By the time Carla Gugino shows up as a local cop, any hopes of suspending disbelief in this melodramatic farrago are dashed. A laugh-out-loud nosy parker, Officer Boyd belongs in some horror movie spoof, like "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil." Come to think on it, that bloody little gem did more to define what real manhood might be all about than Pellington's music video masquerading as movie, all whacked-out sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.