Before the fit hits the shan.

I Melt With You, whatever its pretensions, is a film about cowardice. I’m not sure whether that was part of the point or not. I doubt it, considering that the performances and direction of the film seem to be leaning toward this as some grand tragedy of the 40-something set. A challenge to people who grow into middle age suffering from deep dissatisfaction with their lives, perhaps. The way the characters choose to answer that challenge is, to me, cowardly. But maybe that’s because I’m still young and I still believe in possibilities. What will I be like at 44? Will my life be so fixed by then that I can’t see past the point every decision from now to then has brought me to?

This movie is about stuff. It’s emotionally affecting and yes, tragic, but I can’t help but feel that it’s also about giving in to cynicism though some might view what these four bffs do as an act of insane courage. That argument is going to comprise the bulk of this review since I Melt With You is a seriously interesting meditation on at least that, but probably also on masculinity (more indirectly) and the obligations and value of friendship. I come down on the side that these guys opt out because they are too chickenshit to deal with their lives but one of the great things about this film is that it will be divisive among those who see it and also, I’d bet, along generational lines.One of those movies that takes place in a very enclosed space, I Melt With You is ostensibly about a 7-day birthday party planned for Tim (Christian McKay), a sensitive fella with three best friends who are all working out their personal demons. Richard (Thomas Jane) is the puckish womanizer, the kind of guy who pushes everything just that one step further and drags his friends along with him. Once a writer, Richard is now an English teacher who looks on the trajectory of his artistic life with some degree of bitterness and, of course, cynicism. Jonathan (Rob Lowe) is a doctor who doubles as a prescription drug peddler. He’s lost his wife and kid to another man and, though he seems to be trying, he is unable to connect with his (very young) son as a real father and this haunts him. Last is Ron (Jeremy Piven) who is some kind of financial industry muckety-muck in a great deal of trouble but trying to brush it aside for the annual get-together with the others.

These are all men who, through their fellowship with each other, try to cling to a youth where they were more hopeful and had a lot more potential. At 44 years old, all of them have seen the decisions and compromises they’ve made lead them to something very different than what they intended. While none except for perhaps Ron is in what I’d consider serious shit, the others are all heavily suffering from general existential malaise no doubt compounded by whatever problems. Richard hates himself and can’t get close to anyone but these guys, Tim is in a constant state of grief over a dead lover (I’m not sure whether it was his wife or if Tim is supposed to be gay, I may have missed something but perhaps it was intentionally ambiguous?), and Jonathan can’t seem to move on from his failed relationship. At first they seem genuine in their companionship, happy to see each other and ready to blow off some serious steam. As the first few days go by and they get progressively more fucked up on booze, coke, and scrips, the harmless veneer of their partying takes on a desperation that we realize was there all along.

Tom Jane, underrated actor that he is, gives career-best work as Richard.

As the movie opens, a bunch of seemingly disconnected phrases that are probably supposed to be the inner monologues of these men blast across the screen in what is the opening salvo in a constant barrage of kineticism and manic energy that only increases as the film continues. This is backed by the excellent soundtrack, a mix of nostalgic rock and punk from the 80’s that also presents a sort of running commentary on the loss of dreams, the compromises of adulthood that maybe leave us as empty shells. There’s something in that, but whether it justifies the extreme actions these men take when Tim hangs himself and they discover a pact they all signed as young men is something that I am not clear on.

The pact, only revealed in its fullness at the very end, is that they will all “die as one” if they have not become what they promised themselves they would be, if they age into tiredness and forget what it was to be full of potential and see all the possibilities in life. But as Richard tells the local sheriff (Carla Gugino) who takes interest in them as things get out of control, they were never present and always wasted. It’s the kind of promise, signed in blood, that maybe super high romantics might make as they stare down the barrel of their lives to come. It’s not the kind of promise reasonable men would take seriously and perhaps part of the point is that these are no longer reasonable men.

I still say it’s about cowardice. They choose to honor a flimsy youthful pact, something that registers as more of an excuse for the grotesque downward spiral of mutually-assured suicides than as something really binding. Richard is the last man standing, seemingly unable to go through with it but unable to free himself from it all the same. His drug-fueled insanity is, to me, a commentary on everything else.

I think I could see how an argument might be made that this is an act of courage but I don’t think I could ever believe it. These men all have the capacity to change their circumstances. Only Tim’s death, due to his apparent severe depression, seems justifiable as a result of where his life has led (and less that than simply his inability to cope). If Tim is a selfish coward, and it is possible he may be, then it’s also understandable that he would challenge his friends to follow him. Of course, that’s how I characterize his suicide letter, the reminder of that pact that they all forgot because they’ve changed. Ron keeps trying to tell them how they’ve changed, how crazy it is to take that shit seriously, and I at least agree with him. The film may be trying to say that hey, that’s the point: they’ve changed and that’s exactly why the promise they made is so appealing to them once they have looked at their lives and been reminded of it.

All of these guys have seen their stars rising thanks to TV roles. I wonder if any of them found this film personally ironic as a result.

I wonder if I’ll remember this film when I’m 44 and look back on it with a lot more understanding than I have now. As it is, I feel like I understood the film but that my understanding is biased and biased in a way that may be subject to change. I’m very curious about what other people would make of it so if you’ve seen it, please tell me about your experience in the comments section below this review!

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