Film Review: I Melt With You

A reunion of four college friends sheds little light on the male psyche in this garbled and unwatchable film.

The theme of college friends reuniting after a couple of decades is an evergreen premise. But be forewarned: Mark Pellington's version of this scenario—which runs 123 excruciating minutes—has to mark some kind of nadir of cinematic awfulness. The wonder is that the essential and usually excellent Magnolia Pictures has seen fit to distribute this self-indulgent excursion into what the director views as the dark side of the male psyche. It's more assault on viewers than coherent film, and as reviewable as an ape's scribble. A pity, too, that such able performers as Jeremy Piven, Thomas Jane and Carla Gugino have lent their efforts to this farrago.

Allegedly, Pellington (The Mothman Diaries) was inspired by John Cassavetes’ Husbands to assess the life experience of his own generation of forty-something men. The result: Four college buddies gather for a week each year in a rented condo in Big Sur to celebrate the birthday of gay friend Christian McKay, who has suffered a psychic wound linked to his sister's death. The other players are Rob Lowe as a medic who makes a living writing scrips for abusers of OxyContin; Thomas Jane, a has-been novelist turned teacher—and also a lothario (in an outtake from “Hung”?); and, ripped-from-the-headlines, Jeremy Piven as a financial miscreant about to be indicted for stealing from his clients. Carla Gugino, cruelly misused as the local county sheriff, makes a brief, pointless appearance early on, only to disappear until the film's third act—if you can so dignify the moronic denouement—as if the director had forgotten all about her.

Pellington's stated goal is to contrast the present messes of the men's lives with youthful aspirations and ideals. “How do we as men come to terms with not becoming what we set out to be?” he says in the press notes. “How do we handle the powerlessness and guilt connected to failure?” These are good questions. So tell us, guys. Instead, they just pounce on Lowe's valise of pharmaceuticals, the better to mix them with a lethal cocktail of coke and booze, for a weeklong saturnalia yielding zero insight. Against a soundtrack larded with punk hits, they dance around and roughhouse in front of the fire, talk filthy, do lines, and argue about who gave whom crabs, a demo of Untamed Male Psyche. I kept wondering: Where's Carla?

The divorced Lowe pathetically sneaks off at five a.m. to call his ex-wife. Piven whines he may have robbed his clients, “but I never cheated on my wife.” Jane recruits some local hotties, who include notorious porn star Sasha Grey—who reliably strips down—to get wasted back at the condo. Most laughably, one of the kids has just published a story in The New Yorker! The worst stumble, though, involves what Pellington calls “an existential horror” element. Seems these dudes took a pledge some 25 years back to off themselves if they fell short of their dreams. And on schedule, one of them does. Which doesn't keep the survivors from doing lines while the body lies in the next room. Oh, and Carla Gugino's back, finally, prowling the grounds and peering in their front door.

The film is segmented into days. I gather the Sundance screening was hemorrhaging viewers. Half left by Day 3. I made it just past Day 6.