“I Melt With You” warmly invites you in like an old friend, hangs on the shoulders of nostalgia and the togetherness of shared photo album remembering for a weekend of youthful abandon. Gathered for many drinks with the best friends of their lives quickly becomes a dangerous Bacchanalia of doomed ritualizing, darkly lit and disturbing yet familiar to anyone who has ever fallen off the beaten path and enjoyed it too much. Driven verisimilitude makes effortless everyday musings into a confrontational match of truth and consequences where shadow confidants force answers to the hardest questions imaginable – are we bound to the rigid romanticism’s of our youth or by denial obligated to hold ourselves punishable? Four middle-aged men find themselves at just such a crossroads when their yearly reunion uncovers far more sinister coincidences and calculated misery that promises a one way trip to forever. Three days invariably becomes the tomorrow of hell’s high waters where excess begins and ends with a cornucopia of drugs, alcohol and bare bottoms cleansed by ocean waves and pit fires that ebb away the façade of grown ups masking lost boys that never survived their past.
“I Melt With You” feels like the mid-life rights of passage you’ve heard about or are living, the runway that many men land and take off from. Poetically poised on a fulcrum where the freedoms of the past weigh against the laws and order of marriages, relationships and career choices, director Mark Pellington makes no effort to balance, content to topple back on the immutable. His choices are to prepare his characters for a crash landing, choose instead the importance of an all out one-way journey in order to unearth the devastation of unreachable goals and terrible packs in blood. The distant wildernesses of growing up is not an easy expedition and consequently it should be of no surprise that the film failed unilaterally with audiences everywhere. The way Pellington sets things up, his insistence on the inevitability of tragedy to bind all stories about adolescence revisited is as brave and poignant as it is flawed and ruinous. The trouble with collateral damage of the magnitude depicted in this film is that it pushes one about as far as you can imagine and beyond. So far that when the final frame flutters to black and the credits scroll, the sense of sadness is palpable, unshakable. Leading your audience into the bleak hells of our past with no way out can pretty much guarantee negative reviews. And you can’t blame anyone.
“I Melt With You” stares back at all our preconceived notions and expectations about friendship, male togetherness and shared tragedy and refuses to go easy, to go where we need it to go for the sake of consoling our worst imaginings. It removes the necessity of practical outcomes to impossible situations by throwing everything into the blender and taking the top off to re-purpose the safe and serene kitchen walls of our lives. It is in this knowing and remembering that we avoid that the film is at its best an allegory of the brutality that lives and breathes in each of those who have suffered similarly and at worst a strong-arm rejection of tender sensibilities. If that’s too much or not enough, if that suggests the airy and the undefinable as an excuse then perhaps it’s enough to walk away and forget as quickly as you can. Maybe you’re just not willing or interested in “going there” and that’s perfectly understandable. Maybe at the end it really is about rebirth, just not for the characters of this story. This is not a bad movie, rather a movie about bad things and the people torn apart by them.