12 December 2011

MANLY MEN DOING MANLY THINGS

The best parts of I Melt with You are in the first 40 minutes, when it's a story of four 44-year-old men indulging in a non-stop whirlwind of alcohol and recreational drugs just because they can, and also to stop feeling pain and any other human emotion. It is a celebration of absolutely everything that is worst about the contemporary American white male, from the incredible sense of entitlement to the absolute certainty that the petty little indignities of everyday life are the worst thing that anybody has been forced to live through ever. The best parts, remember. Those are the best parts. Even the bit at the beginning where the film presents of a series of title cards detailing the four leads' self-descriptions ("I am divorced", "I am older than I want to be", "I lose my boner sometimes" - I am paraphrasing, just a wee bit), and it's too self-consciously "artistic" and deliberately jagged for words.

Our protagonists get together once a year to get drunk and reminisce, and this year they're doing it at a crazily palatial home in Big Sur, with a dumbfounding view of the ocean. In the order they arrive, these men are Richard (Thomas Jane), a novelist who is no longer terribly fond of writing, even though it was always his great dream; Tim (Christian McKay), who has a sad tragedy a couple of years in his past and still hasn't come out of the depression it threw him into; Ron (Jeremy Piven), who does something in finance and is by far the wealthiest of the four, and the reason they were able to rent such a spectacular slice of real-estate porn; and Jonathan (Rob Lowe), a doctor who some time ago realised that there was more cash in selling prescriptions to bored rich people than in bothering to cure them, and he is the reason they have such a cornucopia of narcotics to burn through over their six-day vacation.

I truly cannot describe without sounding like I'm being snarky, the degree to which the first 40 minutes are nothing at all but watching these for people behave like the most purified douchebags you'd ever hope to see in a motion picture; and really, with Jane, Piven, and Lowe in the cast, that's less a surprise than it is a generic requirement (one wonders how Aaron Eckhart could possibly have avoided winding up in here, especially with Neil LaBute as one of the fifty-trillion executive producers*). In a way, it's refreshing: in a world of movies that act like they're criticising and exploring male privilege in America but really just reinforce it, I Melt with You just straight-up bathes in the glory of the universe-conquering awesomeness of the penis, and cannot, at least, be accused of hypocrisy.

It's all exactly as tedious as it sounds, with characterisation at the most barbarically simple level possible (the dialogue does not suggest personality so much as it reels off adjectives), and first-time writer Glenn Porter's idea of subtlety is that the sensitive one is gay, though I'll concede that the way in which Tim is revealed to the audience to be gay is tremendously "no big deal" -ish for a movie that feels like it would ordinarily see fit to give him no other personality. As it stands, being gay gives him at least twice as many distinctive characteristics as the other three, who are respectively "the lothario", "the sleazy married one", and "the sleazy unmarried one who misses his kid".

These simple, uniformly unlikable people make lewd, unfunny jokes, and get increasingly desperate about how much being a grown-up sucks, and then the big twist happens when Tim kills himself, and leaves behind a note; not a suicide note, but a letter the four friends wrote back in college, the details of which are kept hidden from us till the very end, despite how incredibly obvious they are to guess. And here what was merely seedy and fratty and obnoxious triumphing of a hideously selfish and unexamined way of life bottoms out into the most hateful, unearned whinge about how unutterably awful and sad it is when 44-year-olds with what most of us would regard as spectacularly plush lives have to live up to the fact that they just couldn't keep it real, man, y'know? As telegraphed by a wall-to-wall punk rock soundtrack that is just marginally on the too-old-for-these-characters side of things (the anthem of the movie is the Sex Pistols' "Pretty Vacant", when by my math they would have been 11 years old), and is used by director Mark Pellington with a pronounced lack of irony as a signifier for never selling out and staying true to your roots, which may surprise those whose first exposure to the Pistols' hit was on a Guitar Hero playlist.

Anyway, doing things with as little irony as possible is pretty much the heart and soul of Pellington's approach to this material, which is itself ironic, because just about the only way that could have made any of this remotely tolerable was a filmmaker who saw right through the characters and constantly twitted them for their bullshit. Instead, the film is made with what I imagine is meant to be a raw and honest and intense aesthetic of over-saturated colors and heightened contrast and lots of jump cuts; it somehow finds a perfect balance between comically exaggerated edgy roughness and lurid gaudiness, looking sort of like a documentary about crime-fighting whores. It's appalling ugly and obviously meant to read as stylish and snazzy; in that respect, it is a perfect fit for a screenplay that wants to first present the hedonistic lifestyle of 40something adolescent boys as seductive and desirable, and then wants to present their indulgent whining as sympathetic and heartfelt. Across the board, this is meant to be probing and piercing, and it is merely rancid, shallow and bilious.

2/10

1 comment:

Colin said...

There's something really, really refreshing about reading a review that consists of undisguised, unqualified condemnation in the sea of wishy washy, apologetic, look-on-the-bright-side, just-my-opinion film reviews that is the internet. So thanks for that.