How much you enjoy I Melt With You is completely dependent on how you react to the complete left-turn the movie takes halfway through, and also that you don’t expect, as some of the marketing (particularly what came out of the US) has suggested, that this is kind of like a mid-life crisis The Hangover. It most certainly isn’t.
Every year four men meet for a week of drug fuelled debauchery away from their staid normal lives and family. For those few days they can retreat to their youth and its carefree pursuit of fun and the fact everything back in those days was felt far more keenly, before being numbed by the real world. Richard (Thomas Jane), Ron (Jeremy Piven), Jonathan (Rob Lowe) and Tim (Christian McKay) certainly go all out for drink, drugs, sex and general mania, but on day 4, things go horribly wrong when one of them kills themselves. This sets off an ever descending journey for the remaining mates, all based around a note they wrote 25 years before, during their final year of college.
It really is a film of two halves, with the first hour dedicated to the men’s ever increasing wildness as they let rip and become complete dicks for a week (well, let’s be generous and say they express their true selves, which they feel they have to supress in in normal life). It’s the sort of set-up where you’re half expecting them to have to pay for the consequences of taking shed-loads of drugs. However, the film becomes a remarkably different beast in the second hour, where it’s actually their whole adult lives they have to answer for, and most particularly whether they’ve lost too much compared to the idealism of their youth.
The two-part structure is problematic, largely because while the meat of the movie is in the second half, the first part goes on for a long time and many may be left feeling they were led up the garden path. There is actually a lot of relevant stuff going on during the lengthy set-up, but it’s tough not to feel it could have all been handled a lot more succinctly or in a way that didn’t feel so much like we’ve suddenly fallen into a different movie after 60 minutes, including a slightly tacked on thriller element with a cop (Carla Gugino) snooping around.
It’s also true that if you’re a literalist, you may find the movie a bit hard to swallow. In a realistic sense, what happens in the second half aren’t the most believable of events, and when it’s revealed what’s in the note, some may feel a bit let-down that it isn’t slightly more dramatic. However if you take things more symbolically – that this is about the death of dreams, youth and the acceptance (or not) of the numb disappointment of middle aged life – there’s a lot to think about here. The film doesn’t exactly come to the cheeriest of conclusions about your 40s and beyond, although it does place the fault of the men rather than life itself. I also felt slightly annoyed at Christian Cook’s stock character who’s gay and suicidal, which almost unwittingly falls into old stereotypes.
It’s difficult to know how much to recommend I Melt With You, as it will undoubtedly divide audiences. Some will find it gripping, moving, thought-provoking, transcendent and rather sad, while others will feel the entire thing is frustrating, disappointing, unbelievable and about a bunch of unpleasant people. Personally, while I did have problems with the left field turn the movie makes and I was starting to feel annoyed by the characters, I found the second-half pretty absorbing and incredibly interesting. There’s also little doubt that the acting is great – as you’d expect from such a good cast – and it looks wonderful (the opening credits include a ‘colorist’, showing just how important the look was to the makers of the film), with director Mark Pellington creating some great shots. Indeed, even while the first half often seems a tad aimless, Pellington’s handling of the increasingly drug-hazed shenanigans is great.
Overall Verdict: I can’t guarantee you won’t absolutely hate it, but if you give it a chance, there are plenty of interesting ideas about midlife here, as well as a plot that will leave you thinking.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac