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‘I Melt With You’ Succumbs to Shallow Pretensions

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Rating: 1.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Mark Pellington’s “I Melt with You” is one of the worst movies of 2011, but has the benefit of also being among the weirdest. Students of rotten cinema will surely flock to this disaster simply to watch it in morbid, mouth-gaping awe. Yet without a scenery chewing wild card like Nicolas Cage in the ensemble, this mournful mess is far from an enjoyable guilty pleasure.
While Diablo Cody points a scathingly satirical eye at women who refuse to grow up in her new comedy, “Young Adult,” “Melt” assembles a group of overgrown adolescents and expects us to not only take them seriously but empathize with their suffering. These guys are such self-absorbed losers that they make the cast of “Man Up” look mature and refined in comparison. The picture is an interminable slog toward an inevitable conclusion that just might inspire viewers to rip the hair out of their skulls.
“I’m sick and tired of cynical artists!” pouts Richard (Thomas Jane) during an annual reunion with his three former college buddies, Ron (Jeremy Piven), Jonathan (Rob Lowe) and Tim (Christian McKay). His words seem to reflect the thoughts of the filmmaker, who boldly set out to make a sincere work of art devoid of irony. Unfortunately, the resulting picture is little more than an arty curiosity bursting with film school pretension and populated by infuriatingly inane characters. The entire first hour consists of meandering montages where the four friends skinny dip, get high, laugh boisterously at things that aren’t funny, take every last drug and pill in sight, hit on girls half their age and morosely reflect on their pathetically empty lives. “What are you hiding from, old man?” asks one of Richard’s failed conquests during one of many laughably forced arguments. Glenn Porter’s debut screenplay lacks all sense of subtlety and intrigue when attempting to reveal each man’s barely concealed demons. The film begins with a series of words that flash onscreen and literally spell out male insecurities such as, “My Hair Is Falling Out.” If this brooding intro didn’t provide enough clues to where this film is headed, then McKay’s grave, marble-eyed stare will leave no shadow of a doubt.

Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe and Jeremy Piven in I MELT WITH YOU, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe and Jeremy Piven in I MELT WITH YOU, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

After annoying the audience for half of its running time, Pellington’s film veers into truly unwatchable territory during its second act. Since frankly no dissection of the plot is possible without a “spoiler alert,” consider this sentence an official alert, though if you truly are considering wasting your hard earned money on a full-price movie ticket, I suggest you continue reading. Right at the top of the film’s second act, one of the friends kills himself after a mixture of drugs and guilt gets the best of him. The original music by “tomandandy” blatantly mimics Jonny Greenwood’s atonal riffs from “There Will Be Blood,” as the distraught friends discover a note strategically left by their deceased buddy. The note is in fact a blood oath made by the friends back when they were 25, in which they promised to “die together” if their adult lives hadn’t turned out the way they had planned. Though this statement applies to practically every person who made it past the naïve age of 25, the idiotic 40-somethings take the blood oath seriously and consider going through with their promise. Yet this is in no way a noble decision on their part. All four men have perfectly good reasons for killing themselves, and this silly pact provides their warped minds with the perfect excuse.

Instead of owning up to their responsibilities like real men, these four worthless schlubs decide to take the easy way out. One man attempts to escape his preordained fate, but can’t even get on the plane headed for home. Instead, he comes back to his friends while accompanied by a song that croons, “I’m a coward.” Meanwhile, a female cop (Carla Gugino) spends all her time leaning against a fence while aiming her suspicious glance at the out-of-towners (she clearly has a lot of time on her hands). In a film littered with bad laughs, my favorite takes place in a bar, as the now-nihilistic Richard provokes a pointless brawl after a couple guys chortle over his spilled drink. “You made fun of my misfortune,” growls Jane, in one of the most detached and unconvincing performances in quite some time. The only decent work here is delivered by McKay, who truly deserves a decent role after his would-be star-making vehicle (“Me and Orson Welles”) was overshadowed by Zac Efron.

Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay and Thomas Jane in I MELT WITH YOU, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay and Thomas Jane in I MELT WITH YOU, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo credit: Magnolia Pictures

Capped off by a finale that manages to exploit the Challenger tragedy, this horrendous pile of dreck deserves to be put out of its misery as soon as humanly possible. It’s as if a manic-depressive high schooler was given a budget and crew to make the feature-length version of his suicide note. Whatever possessed a studio to distribute this garbage is beyond me. I do agree, however, that more filmmakers should be allowed to make personal projects that don’t conform to Hollywood formulas. In fact, there were many great films this year that fit that description: Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life,” Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” to name a few. With so many amazing titles to choose from, how could any self-respecting cinephile possibly settle for this?

‘I Melt with You’ stars Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay and Carla Gugino. It was written by Glenn Porter and directed by Mark Pellington. It opened Dec. 9 in New York and LA, and is available On Demand. It is rated R.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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