Review: I Melt With You (Sundance)
PLOT: Four friends (Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay) suffering through their own various midlife crises, unite for a week-long binge of boozing, and rampant drug abuse.
REVIEW: I MELT WITH YOU is yet another Sundance entry that's really going to divide audiences. Heck, of the press audience I saw this with, I'd wager about a quarter of the audience walked out, while another quarter seemed openly contemptuous of the film once the credits rolled. However, I'd also wager that a good 50% of the audience thought the film was incredible, and I'm happy to say I'm one of them.
For me, a film like I MELT WITH YOU that polarizes an audience, is always more interesting than something that's universally loved. Those that hate this film will likely loathe it with a passion, but those that adore it will champion it with the same resolve.
It's really a big departure for director Mark Pellington, who first popped up on my radar with his incredible sleeper, ARLINGTON ROAD (which still has one of the best mindf**k endings I've ever seen), but stumbled a bit with THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (which isn't as bad as it's rep suggests) and HENRY POOLE IS HERE, which barely got a release, but was criticized as a rather saccharine film.
One thing no one will be able to call I MELT WITH YOU is saccharine. One might even call it nihilistic, and this is really one of the angriest films I've ever seen. It's anger may be dismissed as the ramblings of men suffering through a midlife crisis. Those of us that have suffered through the same feelings of failure, regret, and unfulfilled promise that this foursome of friends have experienced, will know different.
Each man in the film perceives himself as a failure to some degree, and these feelings are perfectly emobodied by each of the leads in tremendously vulnerable performances, with no weak links in the bunch. Jane's character was once a tremendously succesful writer, who suffered through a case of writer's block that was so severe, he's been reduced to teaching high school English to a classroom of kids who couldn't care less.For him, the way to deal is just to plow his way through as many casual flings as he can, while drenching his insecurities in booze and loud punk rock. For Jane, this is the one role he's played that really lives up to the potential he showed in STANDER. Fans of his, and I know there are many on this site, need to check this tour-DE-force performance out for themselves- and hopefully this will get enough exposure to give Jane the stature he should have gotten years ago.
Former heartthrob Rob Lowe plays a doctor who's family spontaneously decided they could do without him. Now, he sleepwalks through his practice, refilling prescriptions of ativan, and God knows what else to bored housewives, who have such little regard for him that they don't even bother to stop text messaging throughout their appointments. To cope, he keeps himself constantly zonked out on pills, choking down handfuls at a time. Anyone who only knows Lowe from ST. ELMO'S FIRE or WEST WING is in for a major surprise here, and the way he plays this self-destructive, but essentially kind character is a bloody revelation.
As for Jeremy Piven; I can't say I've enjoyed most of his work in the past decade outside of ENTOURAGE, as it seems he just keeps playing Ari Gold no matter what the role. Here, he plays a guy that could be describes as the dark-side of Ari. At first, I thought Piven was the weak link, but as it went on, and more was revealed about the character, I realized the role has much darker roots than Ari Gold ever had, and despite my initial reservations, no one can deny Piven has delivered.
And finally we get Christian McKay, who plays the conscience of the group. I don't want to reveal to much about him, other than to say he's the group's anchor, and without him the other three cannot function, as becomes clear closer to the end of the film. McKay really impressed me with his spot on Orson Welles in ME & ORSON WELLES, but here he plays a guy about as far removed from Welles as you can get.
Suffice to say, I MELT WITH YOU is a perfectly cast film, and that extends beyond the four leads, and two the supporting cast, including small roles from Carla Gugino and the one and only Sasha Grey. But the real other star here is director Mark Pellington. The way he's manged to make such a profoundly emotional story infused with equal parts machismo and nihilism is stunning, with this feeling almost like a post-FIGHT CLUB Chuck Palahniuk novel come to life. His aesthetic is not for everyone, as it's very heavy handed, and no one will ever accuse this of being a subtle film. He even includes occasional, random archival clips, such as the infamous Challenger explosion clip (trust me- it works). Another hugely important aspect of the film is the soundtrack, featuring classics by the likes of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Cure, Grandmaster Flash and many, many others, which is really the film`s pulse, and drives the film along.
I`m really curious to see how audiences, and the mainstream press are going to respond to this film once it`s officially unveiled at Sundance. I have no doubt many simply won`t get it, and like THE KILLER INSIDE ME, I`m sure many may even be openly contemptuous. Of course, film is subjective, and I can respect someone not liking, or understanding this, but for me it was a profoundly moving experience, and one that I`m keen to repeat.