AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2011
By Don Simpson | October 25, 2011
Director: Mark Pellington
Writer: Glenn Porter
Starring: Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, Christian McKay, Carla Gugino, Tom Bower, Dani Fish, Arielle Kebbel, Sasha Grey, Joe Reegan
I am just going to come right out and say it: I have never seen a film with as much hateful disdain for its lead characters as Mark Pellington’s I Melt With You. Let’s just say Mark Pellington’s film makes the characters of Anthony Drazan’s Hurlyburly (1998) look like total pansies.
Four 44-year college buddies meet at a secluded coastal vacation home for their yearly reunion. Each of them has their own opinion of what makes a man a man, but the four men have certainly not met any of their own expectations. Richard (Thomas Jane) is an aspiring novelist who has been forced to settle for teaching high school English; Jonathan (Rob Lowe) is a physician who has succumbed to selling prescriptions to his clientele; Ron’s (Jeremy Piven) love for money has spiraled so far out of control that he has become a wanted man; and Tim (Christian McKay) has never recovered from losing his sister in a car accident. They hide from the harsh reality of their oh so shitty lives by consuming copious amounts of alcohol and drugs; and when I say copious, I mean suicidal. (To co-opt a phrase from Modern English’s “I Melt With You”, they are “trapped in the state of imaginary grace.”) I was amazed by just how many swigs and lines and pills their bodies could ingest with nary a cardiac arrest; it is as if their bodies have acclimated to the constant onslaught of drugs and booze, enjoying the “positive” affects without suffering any permanent harm.
The men are incredibly affectionate towards each other; constantly hugging and never shying away from kissing each others’ cheeks and foreheads. Their shared love for one another is the only endearing quality that the four leads possess; unfortunately, it is that very same shared respect and commitment that brings about their demise.
Thomas Jane apologized to the Austin Film Festival audience for having to suffer through such a dire piece of cinema, but there are plenty of reasons why our suffering is worthwhile. First of all, Eric Schmidt’s cinematography is nothing short of breathtaking, as it places us in the lucidly experimental dreamscape of the protagonists’ perpetually drug-addled minds. I Melt With You is more of an experimental visual trip than a formal narrative, playing like a long music video with dialogue interspersed between the songs. (More about said songs later.) Secondly, the unleashed whirlwind of performances — especially by Thomas Jane and Rob Lowe — are truly inspired, or at least impeccably intense; this is method acting at its finest.
I saved my favorite aspect of the film for last: the soundtrack. I definitely have a soft spot for films with soundtracks that delve right into my personal record collection, especially when it features songs that I have never heard on a soundtrack before: The Cramps’ “Primitive”, Love and Rockets’ “Kundalini Express”, Talking Heads’ “Memories Can’t Wait”, Dead Kennedys’ “Holiday In Cambodia”, Galaxie 500’s “Blue Thunder”, Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain”, The Specials’ “Do The Dog”, The Clash’s “Brand New Cadillac”, English Beat’s “Click Click”, Vic Chesnutt’s “Coward”, Modern English’s “Gathering Dust”, and Cabaret Voltaire’s “Nag Nag Nag”. More importantly, the songs serve a definite purpose within the context of the narrative, such as the use of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” as the opening track…because, well, these characters are pretty fucking vacant. Really anyone who punishes themselves for not fulfilling the goals that they set 25 years prior — when they were stoned and dethroned 19-year old college brats — are oh so pretty vacant. If only they heeded John Lydon’s sage advice during his infamous interview on the June 27, 1980 episode of the Tom Snyder Show: “History does not matter.”