Don’t let the title, shared with a silly ’80s pop beat, fool you. “I Melt with You” is all doom and gloom, a drug-fueled journey through the miseries of four middle-aged friends over the course of a wild week at a beachside mansion.
The four friends, played by Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, and Christian McKay, in order of importance, get together for a week of debauchery, consuming a rock star level amount of drugs with aplomb. Each is more or less successful financially but all are shattered by the failure of their lives to match their teenage expectations. As the week progresses, the partying gets exponentially harder, with crazed sports car rides and sexual misadventures with a much younger group of locals taking center stage. But their miserable home lives contaminate the celebration, with things taking a serious turn for the worse about halfway through the week.
Few viewers will believe for a second that things would turn out as they do, but it’s to the film’s credit that the final act manages to be unsettling nonetheless. That’s by dent of its performances, in particular Jane as the group’s de facto alpha male, and director Mark Pellington and writer Glenn Porter’s commitment to his nihilistic tale. The film’s handsome leads and idyllic landscapes create a wicked synthesis with claustrophobic, candlelit interiors and the close-up, pressing shots of the friends’ drug and alcohol induced myopic mania. Alone, these guys might make it, but just being together is a drug, comforting yet destructive.
“I Melt with You,” despite its sprawling messiness and the suspension of disbelief required by its conclusion, succeeds as a dizzyingly lurid dive into the abyss of middle age discontent. But the most memorable and demoralizing implication of this film isn’t that life turns out to be disappointing, but that maybe it was never that great in the first place.