Obnoxious I Melt With You is not destined for any top 10 lists
FILM A lamentation frequently heard is that men don't know how to express their feelings. At least not the theoretically less "manly" ones of vulnerability, self-doubt, weepiness, affection, "do these board shorts make me look fat?," etc. Every once in a while, however, there comes an entertainment that makes you think: better to keep those feelings unexpressed, bud.
"Entertainment" is a term pretty loosely applied to I Melt With You, which careens drunkenly between the obnoxious, embarrassing, and unintentionally hilarious before really jumping off a cliff of unearned, fatal self importance. Seldom has a potential camp classic induced such strong desire to plug in the slapping machine and subject all its principal participants to some aversion therapy.
Amusingly programmed for year-end release well after its heavily hooted Sundance Film Festival premiere did Magnolia really think it might figure in top ten lists or award races? its largest potential audience might be snark-seeking Occupy-sympathetic feminists who could treat it as their very own Showgirls (1995). Apart, of course, from ex-golden boys in the upper income percentiles who have "everything" and feel an existential nothing. They will likely be the only folks to grok I Melt as intended, as a mirror held up to My Pain, My Self. The rest of us will be experiencing quite a different sort of pain, in a different location.
Richard (Thomas Jane) is a once-promising novelist whose printed output stalled short of the sophomore slump, and who's now reduced to teaching actual sophomores. Jonathan (Rob Lowe) has blown his marriage, child custody, and Hippocratic Oath playing Dr. Feelgood to prescription-addicted socialites. Ron (Jeremy Piven) is a symptom of high-flying Wall Street corruption whose lush life is about to collapse under a hailstorm of federal fraud investigation. Tim (Christian McKay) is depressed hey, somebody has to be fourth-billed and most expendable plot-wise.
They're gathering at shared age 44 the horror for their annual week long bacchanal at an impressive cliffside Monterey manse. They do the conversational equivalent of extended ball-scratching, as well as a whole lotta booze, coke, weed, and miscellaneous pills provided by walking pharmacy Jon. Eventually they invite over some local youth, baiting the dudes with old-fart slurrings of "You don't know anything!", slo-mo moshing, and sad sex-having with the chicks (including actual porn star Sasha Grey membership really does have its privileges!)
The sole woman here who's roughly their age is, naturally, way off the sexual radar. That would be Carla Gugino, stuck with possibly the year's most thankless female part as a local cop who notices these asshole interlopers and, rather than keeping a nose-pinching distance, becomes increasingly concerned that something bad is about to happen to them.
Of course she's right. Because it turns out these big swinging dicks made a pact when they were 18 that if adult life didn't turn out to be as exciting and limitless and whatnot as it seemed then, they'd ... well, make like Ian Curtis or Sid Vicious or any other punk-rock flameout they trivialize with their self-pitying, worshipful sense of personal identification. (The soundtrack is packed with punk and New Wave oldies meant to affirm that our protagonists remain rebels but then, every mid-80s frat boy thought liking the Clash made them cool, too.)
Faced with the unbearable triteness of their being, these quixotically arrogant self-loathers implode in terms just as meaningful as you'd expect from four reasonably privileged grown white men whose primary source of angst is the fact that life didn't turn out to be as easy or fun as imagined in their freshman dorm.
Credit is due to director Mark Pellington (1999's Arlington Road) and first-time (possibly last-time) scenarist Glenn Porter for their resolute belief that such crybaby bathos merits tragic grandeur. They take the term "epic fail" seriously, making I Melt the Götterdämmerung of male menopause movies. Seldom has a vanity project (right down to producer Jane's incessant showcasing of furry abs) backfired so badly, so personally on everyone involved. Because every scorching revelation here falls into the category of stereotypical rich-people's-problems most Hollywood success stories are smart enough to bare only on their analyst's couch.
Said therapist is well-paid to at least pretend empathy. That Pellington and co. actually expect us to pay cash money for the privilege of watching them bellow like the arrow-felled Last Buffalo is about as ridiculously far as the Peter Pan syndrome can possibly stretch.
I MELT WITH YOU opens Fri/23 in Bay Area theaters.