Mark Pellington's "I Melt With You" may be the single biggest disappointment of the Sundance Film Festival.
As a big fan of Pellington's earlier films such as "The Mothman Prophecies" and "Arlington Road," I probably had greater expectations than most, but regardless of my high hopes, "I Melt With You" is a cinematic calamity from its open frames. And the worst part is that my name is in it -- more or less -- as one of the main characters references a "Jeff Schneider." Oy!
Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven and Christian McKay ("Me & Orson Welles") star as four friends who spend a week in Big Sur reliving their high school glory days and reflecting on how those days have long since passed.
I wasn't exactly expecting likable characters, but boy are these guys a piece of work.
Jane is a failed novelist (aside from one two-week stint on the New York Times best-seller list) who now teaches high school English and snorts cocaine as if Jane were still in "Boogie Nights" mode.
Lowe is a divorced doctor and possible rapist who deals pills to patients like a character out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel and can't get his own kid to call him "Daddy."
Piven is a family man wanted by the SEC for being both greedy and stupid.
McKay lives with the guilt of having killed his sister and her boyfriend … somehow … plus he's not 100% straight, which in this movie means he's obviously suicidal.
Except there's more to it than that. A lot more. The dirty little secret of "I Melt With You" is that it's basically about a death pact that's enforceability is directly related to the happiness of the overall group -- and they're all miserable. Each seems to be at their happiest during their annual get-togethers, but even then, they hide secrets and personal animosities from each other.
Arielle Kebbell and Piven's "Entourage" co-star Sasha Grey appear briefly as a couple of partygoers, with Grey (in case you're wondering, yes, she takes her top off) sort of serving as the impetus for the transformation of the group (via self-reflection) and the pact's initiation.
Another "Entourage" alum, Carla Gugino, plays an integral role as a suspiciously weapon-less local cop set on playing a paranoid hunch.
As far as the performances are concerned, all the actors are fine, with Piven escaping from the mess the best.
While Pellington has a great eye and knows how to direct actors, the knock on him is that he isn't great at development, and there's no doubt that Glenn Porter's script needed more fine-tuning.
Pellington is a very visual filmmaker who made his name directing music videos, yet while I don't necessarily mind his frenetic flourishes and constant filter-changes, "I Melt With You" doesn't exactly cry out for the "Requiem For a Dream" treatment. That's the real problem -- Pellington is unable to resist all the bells and whistles. His most egregious error in judgement of many is the use of onscreen text that is supposed to be edgy, but feels more appropriate of an NYU student film. This isn't "The Social Network" trailer, dude.
Not only does "I Melt With You" feature nearly as many suicides as the haunting documentary "The Bridge," but it also happens to run a bloated 122 minutes. With the help of a motivated editor, Pellington could easily cut 20-30 minutes from film.
The first hour of the film is awash in booze and drugs and other such Bacchanalian excess, and the second half is a huge comedown that plays like the worst hangover ever filmed. I'll put it this way, by the end of the movie, even the eternally-pretty Lowe looks like hell.
The soundtrack is practically omnipresent, and while I really liked what Pellington was going for aurally -- there's a lot of great punk rock and I always love tomandandy's scores -- some clearly found it obnoxious, as the gentleman next to me had his fingers in his ears for half the movie.
What upset me about the soundtrack was that Pellington ruins the big screen debut of Julian Plenti's "Skyscraper," which deserves a better movie. He uses a version of the song over the film's climax, yet the finale is so over the top, it wasn't just ludicrous, it was practically insulting.
Hopefully "I Melt With You" is just a gross miscalculation by a talented filmmaker.
But if not me, who is this movie supposed to appeal to? It feels more like a cathartic expression of personal demons than a movie people would actually want to see. Honestly, I have no idea who the audience for this is, outside of the clinically depressed or the criminally insane. Suffer through it at your own risk.