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I MELT WITH YOU

Nobody, it seems, much liked this star-studded indie about four men succumbing to disillusionment and death in a scenic California locale, but it’s not without worth. In fact, I actually prefer I MELT WITH YOU to better-received Hollywood studies of middle-age bonhomie like THE BIG CHILL and AMERICAN BEAUTY.

The Package
     Loosely inspired by Marco Ferrari’s artsploitation classic LE GRANDE BOUFFE (about four aristocrats gorging themselves to death in a posh villa), I MELT WITH YOU was one of the most widely reviled movies at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, and its theatrical release later that year wasn’t much better received; in the words of its director Mark Pellington, “we never escaped the first reactions from Sundance.” The film is a definite anomaly in Pellington’s filmography, which is marked by big studio actioners (ARLINGTON ROAD) and indie comedies (HENRY POOLE IS HERE), and nor does it accord with the careers of its headliners Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven and Rob Lowe.
     Pellington was admittedly going through a dark period when he made I MELT WITH YOU, while Lowe was eager for a “palette-cleanser” after four years of acting in the wholesome TV series BROTHERS & SISTERS. The resulting film was heavily improvised and made for a reported $600,000, an experience its director described as “empowering.”

The Story
     Four college friends, now in their mid-forties, embark on a weeklong bender in a luxurious Big Sur, CA beach house. There’s Tim, a severely repressed gay man traumatized by a fatal car accident that occurred years earlier; Jonathan, a drug-addicted doctor upset about his divorce; Ron, a self-hating millionaire; and Richard, a frustrated novelist currently employed, unhappily, as a high school English teacher.
     The week begins with a lot of miscellaneous drug-taking, courtesy of Jonathan’s supply of illegally obtained pharmaceuticals. This continues for a full two days until Richard invites some twentyish locals to join the party--which only highlights the protagonists’ collective disillusionment. Tim in particular is quite affected, and produces a handwritten note he and his pals wrote and signed 25 years earlier.
     The following morning Tim is found hanging in a bathroom. This leads to a heated discussion about why he did what he did, and also the note, which can conceivably implicate them in Tim’s suicide.
     From there things degenerate mightily. Ron tries to head home but returns, a local woman cop begins growing suspicious about the guys’ activities, and, worst of all, their pharmaceutical supply runs out. Clearly more deaths are in store as we learn the true, horrifying nature of what was written on that 25-year-old note.

The Direction
     More illicit drugs are consumed in I MELT WITH YOU than in any other film in recent memory, and it’s that aspect that appears to have upset critics and audiences the most. It apparently blinded them to the gorgeously rendered visuals, achieved through highly low budget means, and the fearless performances by four out-of-their-element stars.
     What I could have done without were the many distracting montages that recall director Mark Pellington’s history directing commercials and music videos; a little of this stuff goes a long way, and the film is positively littered with distracting music video flash. Another annoyance is the virtuous cop character investigating the protagonists’ doings, a cliché that, as in countless other movies where that device is used, only distracts from the main action (although Carla Gugino, it must be said, is quite strong in the role).
     Yet overall the film must be counted as a freewheeling success, with a staunchly uncompromising arc that combined with the bravura filmmaking places it in a class of its own. Perhaps it’s inevitable that I MELT WITH YOU was so widely disliked, although in years to come I predict people might be a bit more receptive to its none-too-charming charms.

 
Vital Statistics

I MELT WITH YOU
Magnolia Pictures

Director: Mark Pellington
Producers: Mark Pellington, Norman Reiss, Rob Cowan
Screenplay: Glenn Porter
Cinematography: Eric Schmidt
Editing: Don Broida
Cast: Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, Christian Mckay, Carla Gugino, Tom Bower, Arielle Kebbel, Sasha Grey 

     

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